My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
A fascinating and sometimes gripping look at life on the US/Mexican border. This is a book with a strong message which seems very appropriate in the current climate.
This was my first Marcus Sedgwick book and while I will admit that I found this a challenging read I absolutely loved his writing.
Synopsis (from GoodReads)
A potent, powerful and timely thriller about migrants, drug lords and gang warfare set on the US/Mexican border by prize-winning novelist, Marcus Sedgwick.
Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence – and beyond it – America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead. Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.
I have to admit to having very mixed views on this. There were a lot of things I either loved or liked a lot but I didn’t find it an easy read and I feel like it took me a lot longer than it should have.
The writing is excellent, the story is fascinating, there are some truly gripping and emotional scenes and I loved the message behind it (one which seems very appropriate in the world right now), however there were more than a few things I struggled with.
Firstly the pacing, it seemed like this should have been a fast paced read, it’s about two friends Arturo and Faustino who need to find a lot of money fast or they’ll end up in serious trouble with one of the local gangs, but it’s not. There is quite a lot of scene setting and contextual information which while interesting really slows things down. I understand the message the author was trying to get across but feel like there should have been another way of achieving this without interrupting the flow of the story.
The other thing I struggled with was the lack of descriptions or explanations. For the majority of the book I wasn’t 100% certain what age Arturo was. Initially I thought he was older but I’m pretty sure he was in his teens. Similarly there’s a big section around a card game but no explanation of the rules or even a basic understanding of how it works. There’s also a lot of Spanish and more than a few cultural references that I just didn’t get and unfortunately I’m quite a lazy reader and don’t tend to go look things up.
There are some interesting characters but because of the broken way the story is told and the lack of information about a lot of them I found it difficult to connect. There would be moments where I would find myself being drawn in and then suddenly the story would be interrupted. I did have quite a lot of sympathy for Arturo and some of the scenes are heartbreaking but I also found him incredibly frustrating. I wanted things to go a different way but I suspect that this was kind of the point of the story.
I do admire what the author was trying to do and despite the criticisms I did enjoy it but I do wish it had been done in a slightly different way. This is probably very much a me thing though. I’ve read a lot of reviews where readers have looked into the culture and background and have gotten so much more out of it.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own