In his fiction debut, Rotella (Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the Mexican Border, 1998) draws a crime novel from the chaotic cauldron of the U.S.-Mexican border.
Valentine Pescatore, “boiling with youth and nerves and aggression,” left a Chicago hotel security job under a cloud. His uncle, a Chicago police lieutenant, called in a favor, and Valentine entered the Border Patrol Academy. The story begins with Valentine assigned as a probationary agent on “The Line,” the U.S.-Mexican border at San Diego. But he’s also in trouble, caught up in the capers of his supervising officer, Garrison, a former Special Forces soldier. Garrison’s shenanigans catch the attention of Isabel Puente, an Inspector General investigator. She turns Pescatore into an undercover agent. Garrison gets wind of his impending arrest and forces Pescatore to flee with him to Tijuana. Garrison is killed during the crossing, and Pescatore, because of his association with the rogue agent, is adopted into the Mexican narco-guerrilla family controlling the border city. Rotella, a former international correspondent and Pulitzer finalist, knows the territory. His characterizations of the players, bad and good, are solid. There’s Junior Ruiz Caballero, the local boss for his corrupt uncle, a prominent Mexico City politician; Buffalo, a stateside gangbanger, an incoherent blend of loyalty and barbarity, self-discipline and mercilessness; good guys like Leobardo Méndez, a former political activist and reporter, head of the Diogenes Group, a task force appointed by the Mexican national government to root out corruption in the federal, state and local police. Pescatore deals with the Mexican mafioso, and Méndez and Puente deal with back-stabbing and corrupt political interests as the action shifts from San Diego to Tijuana and then to the “Triple Border,” where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil come together, a Wild West–like milieu replete with Arab terrorists, assorted drug runners, Asian immigrant smugglers and other bad actors.
A fast-paced thriller that rings true to the real story behind the political posturing over the drug war, illegal immigration and border security.