Wild West noir from Waite (The Terror of Living, 2011), his second literary effort.
But this isn’t the Wild West of rustlers and cattle barons. It’s southern New Mexico on the cusp of the second millennium, and the range war is between the Mexican drug cartel and the local drug kingpin, an ugly and blood-drenched fight that ranges across the desert and mountains and pumped-out oil fields along the border. Raymond Lamar, son of a Mexican cook and a hard-driving Anglo wildcatter, returned from Vietnam, worked the oil fields until the oil and the work dried up, and then signed on as a pistolero for Memo, a Las Cruces dealer controlling the border country. Times were hard, jobs scarce and the money good, but Ray’s wife, Marianne, didn’t approve. Dead soon thereafter from an apparent “accidental” car crash that left their son Billy brain-damaged, Marianne became a victim of the violence Ray brought home. Guilt-ridden, revenge-minded Ray believed the cartel responsible, and he pressured his cousin Tomás Herrera, the local sheriff, to confront the woman rumored to be the cartel’s local chief. The woman was shot dead, Herrera lost his job, and Ray disappeared into the drug war’s deadly jungle. Now promised big money by Memo and hoping to reconnect with his deaf-mute son, Ray agrees to one last job, wetwork that eventually leaves a trail of dead bodies along the borderland. Waite writes with grace and poignancy and keen comprehension of hard men in hard circumstances, especially in delineating Ray, Tomás and Dario, local cartel kingpin. While he doesn’t fully explore the Hispanic-Anglo cultural clash muddying the flow of narcotics north, and female characters are somewhat tangential, Waite’s narrative rages as a perfect torrent of violence flooding toward its inevitable conclusion.
Fierce and lyrical.