If you liked THE CARTEL, by Don Winslow…

  • Recommendations from Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

the cartelOne of the biggest books this year was Don Winslow’s The Cartel, a dark, violent, yet human look at the drug war and its effect on Mexico. For more crime fiction covering Mexico, past and present, I suggest these books.


9780615916545Federales by Chris Irvin

This novella about a former Mexican agent protecting a mayor who has taken on the cartels is the solemn and moving chamber piece to The Cartel‘s symphony. Both use the actual politician, Maria Gorriesta Santos, as a template for a major character. You can find copies of Federales on our shelves and via bookpeople.com


9781489561541Quick by Billy Kring

If The Cartel didn’t give you enough grim violence on the border this one will. The Quick has one of the scariest villains I’ve read in the past few years and I read a lot of books with scary dudes. You can find copies of Quick on our shelves and via bookpeople.com


9780805091298The Return by Michael Gruber

When a book editor gets a mysterious diagnosis, he fills a van full of guns, grabs his loose canon buddy from Vietnam, and heads south of the border to settle some scores. A rich prose style and engaging characters give us a look at life and death in Old Mexico. You can find copies of The Return on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Christopher Irvin

~post by Molly

We’re proud to have Christopher Irvin‘s novella, Federales, on our shelves. It’s a tight, violent, hard-boiled story that looks at the Mexican drug wars. I caught up with the author to ask him a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: The moral center of your story, Eva, is consistently portrayed as an enigma, seen through the eyes of the much more problematic detective Marcos. Did you decide to distance the readers from Eva because her actions are so moral as to be difficult to identify with?

CHRISTOPHER IRVIN: Yes, that is part of it for sure. Eva demonstrates an almost mythical level of perseverance and sacrifice that I think would be difficult to grasp/believe from her perspective without a long narrative. I tried to walk a fine line on Eva being a very strong character, but not irrational or unlikeable. Readers get to view and perhaps come to understand Eva through Marcos’s skewed vision.

I think this helps ground her character, especially since the book is a novella, with limited time to develop Eva and her struggle. I also really like to use a close third person point of view, and while Federales is both of Eva and Marcos’s story, I thought Marcos was the best window (albeit clouded) to tell it through.

MP: The story’s inspiration comes from the real life murder of anti-cartel campaigner Maria Santos Gorrostieta, yet the story focuses more on the relationship between her, her daughter, and her protector. Was this mainly so as to set the story within the detective novel conventions? What inspired some of the major differences between the story and its inspiration?

CI: It’s interesting that you bring up detective novel conventions, as the book definitely has some, though it’s not consciously what I set out to do. My aim was to tell a character-driven story to get at the heart of the struggle in Mexico, and on a low enough level that it feels real. Marcos came to mind when I first read about Gorrorstieta (more on that below) and I think he drove the major differences between the story and its inspiration. I didn’t want to recount Gorrostieta’s life, though Eva does take on much of her past.

I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that from the beginning the reader has a good idea of where the story is headed and what the fates of Eva and Marcos might be, so I think the relationships between the two and Eva’s daughter were more important than ever to drive the story. If the reader knows what’s coming, how can you make them stick with it and hopefully) surprise them a little? In hindsight, that question drove a lot of my thinking and edits.

MP: How did you come upon Gorrostieta’s story, and what in this story made you want to turn it into a novel?

CI: I make a point to read about Mexico in the news. It’s a fascinating country and the level of violence that exists is as baffling as it is unsettling. That said, I actually stumbled upon Gorrostieta’s story on report of her murder. Gorrostieta’s crusade against the cartels is both inspiring and terribly tragic. While searching for more detail, I found it difficult to learn about her life aside from the summaries reported at the time of her death.  As I mentioned earlier, around this time bits of Marcos began forming in my head, and once the two came together I just felt like it was a story that I had to write.

MP:  As a follow-up, what do you hope for people to take home with them, from such a timely novel?

CI: I hope readers take away a glimmer of the toll of corruption and violence on Mexico. Federales is a work of fiction, but you can find the essence of the book in the news almost every day. Here in the United States, the Southern border and immigration issues dominate the headlines, keeping our neighbor and her people mostly out of sight, out of mind. I think it can do good to put a face on the struggle.

MP:  I was so intrigued by the ending. I have to ask, it seemed to me that most of the novella is a particular narrative about a policeman protecting a politician and her daughter. At the end, however, the story gets much more symbolic and filled with dramatic irony.

Did you set out with the intent of telling a particular story and then get a bit more literary as you went on or was your initial intention to have the main characters as stand-ins for the larger historical drama?

CI: A bit of both (if I can shoot for the middle.) I think the novella is very much a tale of two halves, with the latter half organically growing a bit more literary because of where the book turned. I did intend for the characters to represent some of the larger picture, and I’m happy if some of the readers–yourself included–came away with that. The larger context came about after a decision to challenge myself to add more layers to the book. My first idea (read: never go with your first idea) was more of a straight revenge tale, but it was boring and felt done to death. Elements of the first idea made it into the final book, but they ended up being very different works.

I think most importantly, the ending felt honest and true to me – the only place for the story to go. I’m proud of how that turned out, and I think readers are picking up on it.

MP: Since that last question was a bit long, I’ll just finish up with a short one – what’s next?

CI: Thanks for asking! I’m working toward completing a novel (very different from Federales) and I’ve outlined a spiritual sequel to Federales, tentatively titled “La Milicia,” centering on the militias in western Mexico. I’m also working on Expatriate, a comic series with artist Ricardo Lopez Ortiz (should have more to share on that soon, here.)

As for stuff on the horizon, I’ll have a short story in the latest issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir, which drops on April 15th, and a short story in Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen, edited by Joe Clifford.

_____________________________________________________

Federales is available on our shelves now and online via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Review: FEDERALES by Christopher Irvin


Federales by Christopher Irvin
Reviewed by Molly

Christopher Irvin’s Federales could not be timelier in its subject matter, especially for a book set in Texas. Irvin writes tough, hard prose with a mission – he sets out to bring awareness of the true story of cartel violence against a female mayor campaigning against drug violence, and he does exactly that. If you don’t get the message from the novel itself, the afterword certainly hammers it home; Irwin writes that he hopes his book “brings some attention to the never-ending struggle that is mostly out of sight, out of mind to us here in the United States.”

The plot follows a detective in Mexico City who, after having stayed under the radar of the cartels for most of his career, finds to his dismay that he has come to their attention and must flee the city. He finds new employment protecting a politician and her daughter from threats made by the cartels, and in so doing, finds companionship.

The threats surrounding the politician are very real. Two previous assassination attempts have already left her without a husband and with hideous scars, but she has much more to lose.

Irvin’s writing is tough, and his book is short, so you can expect every sentence to pack a punch. The violence is extreme, as befits a story of the cartels, and some parts of the tale read more like a horror story than a hard-boiled detective novel. Irvin is relentless in his harrowing vision of modern Mexican society and the effect of powerful cartels on ineffective bureaucracy. Read this book in bed with the lights on and you just might remember that Irvin’s vision of reality does not constitute the whole, but merely a very, very disturbing part.

_________________________________________________________

Federales is available on our shelves & online via bookpeople.com.