ZOOT-SUIT MURDERS by Thomas Sanchez


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After the ambition and promise of Rabbit Boss (1973), this darkly fantastical political thriller, though obviously the work of a gifted writer, is surprisingly formulaic with its plotting and transparent with its messages. The Mexican barrio of Los Angeles, 1943. Social worker Oscar Fuss, who uses baseball to keep teenagers off the street and out of the zoot-suit gangs, is really an undercover agent working for a U.S. Senator who's investigating ""un-American"" activities. The Senator is most eager for Fuss to infiltrate a religious cult led by frail, red-haired, asthmatic Kathleen La Rue; Fuss thinks La Rue is non-political and harmless (soon he's also in love with her) and would rather find out whether the rich American Fascist underground is behind the heroin supply that is corrupting and controlling the anti-G.I. Mexican teenagers. Somber, vulnerable Fuss carries out both investigations, and they lead to some violence as well as a number of atmospheric L.A. sequences--mingling in barrio street life, observing boat movements down on the pier, peering in the dark to spot a pusher behind the letters of the ""H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D"" sign, trading info with the Senator at the ball park. But this book is ultimately less than the sum of its fine, moody parts. Even with the injection of letters from Fuss' G.I. brother overseas, there's not enough substance to support the moments of roughly poetic prose or the portentous theme-work--Fuss is finally caught between fanatics of both extremes, goodness and love annihilated by politics. The thriller form, however artfully colored, is too gimcrack for Sanchez' dark seriousness. Still, on sheer-action terms, well above average--and for every awkwardly overreaching moment, there's one of lean, vivid power.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1978
ISBN: 0679733965
Publisher: Dutton