Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: The Hot Country

Copyright © 2016, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

This novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler is the first in his series billed as "A Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller."

The story's setting is Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1914 where Chicago reporter Christopher Marlowe "Kit" Cobb is assigned to report on the various rebel factions that are vying for power in an unstable Mexico, made more complex by America's invasion of the southern port city of Vera Cruz.

While there, Cobb meets a pretty Mexican woman, Luisa, who turns out to be a sniper for an unknown rebel group. Also in town is a German ship filled with armaments that also disgorges, in the dead of night, a mysterious German official who Cobb thinks may be trouble for the Americans. Following the German eventually leads to Panco Villa's rebel camp, but not before Cobb has to fight alongside some Villistas to save his own skin - thus earning Pancho Villa's respect. The German is there, too, to urge Villa to invade San Antionio, Texas, and possibly unite all Mexicans under arms for the fight. Cobb learns of this and must escape to tell the story.

The author does a great job immersing the reader in the place and time of 1914 Vera Cruz, peppering the story with the smells and tastes and emotions of the locality. Each chapter bubbles with tension and suspense and action. Cobb lives on the edge at times, taking chances more suited for a secret agent than a reporter, while he tries to determine the mystery German man's mission. And along the way, he hopes to reunite with the lovely Luisa, despite the fact she once held a gun to his head.

My only negative critique of the book is a writing device Butler uses that I find annoying and ineffective: he lapses into ultra-long sentences - some spanning a page or more - for the purpose, I assume, of creating a frantic sense of action or thoughts for the character. I often found myself just skimming over those sections, having gotten the gist in the first few lines. This is done repeatedly, and I think detracts a little from the overall excellence of the story.

All in all, The Hot Country is a great read that is hard to put down. The hardcover is about 325 pages.

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