In the fourth of Arceneaux’s (Ransom Island, 2014, etc.) Gulf Coast thriller series, a 15-year-old athlete hopes to clear his professional boxing pal of a murder charge.
1962 is a year of change for both Charlie Sweetwater and his home country of America. While the Cuban missile crisis has citizens fearing nuclear war, he revels in young love, courtesy of Carmen Delfín. But Charlie confronts his share of challenges, too. Stubby Hunsacker, owner of the Texas boxing gym where Charlie and older brother Johnny regularly train, turns up dead, apparently murdered. Cops arrest Cuban boxer Jesse Martel, Carmen’s uncle. For some people, the case is cut and dried—it’s seemingly evident that a person of color has killed a white man. At the same time, agents from an (initially) unnamed organization question Jesse’s loyalty to the U.S. But Charlie and Johnny believe in Jesse’s innocence. There’s no shortage of others who may have killed Stubby, including thuggish Miami promoters wanting to sponsor Jesse, as well as Jesse’s shady friend, Ramón Cruz, who the brothers suspect is a spy for Cuba. And to make certain Jesse steers clear of death row, Charlie and Johnny may have to find the murderer themselves. Arceneaux’s story is a smashing blend of a coming-of-age tale and a suspenseful thriller. Charlie may say goodbye to his virginity, and the high school sophomore makes the varsity football team. Ominous events, however, occur simultaneously: before the murder even happens, the gym gets hit with a break-in, an office is trashed, and there’s an explosion. The author can take readers from Charlie’s teenage perspective to a state of panic with ease: the brothers’ worry that they’re late to an early-morning workout is quickly offset when they spot Mafioso types roughing up Stubby. Sure, Charlie earns reader sympathy right away when he suffers the brunt of Karl McDevitt’s bullying at the gym. But it’s his actions that make him laudable and not just his tireless support of Jesse. When he stands up to Carmen’s mom, who clearly disapproves of her daughter’s palurdo (hick) boyfriend, it’s something to be admired.
Charlie eventually gets his shot in the ring, but the selfless, obstinate protagonist is already a champ.