Monday, 17 June 2013



From acclaimed author David Corbett, a stunning and suspenseful novel of a life without loyalties and the borders inside ourselves.

Roque Montalvo is wise beyond his eighteen years. Orphaned at birth, a gifted musician, he’s stuck in a California backwater, helping his Salvadoran aunt care for his damaged brother, an ex-marine badly wounded in Iraq. When immigration agents arrest his uncle, the family has nowhere else to turn. Roque, badgered by his street-hardened cousin, agrees to bring the old man back, relying on the criminal gangs that control the dangerous smuggling routes from El Salvador, through Guatemala and Mexico, to the U.S. border.

But his cousin has told Roque only so much. In reality, he will have to transport not just his uncle but two others: an Arab whose intentions are disturbingly vague and a young beauty promised to a Mexican crime lord. Roque discovers that his journey involves crossing more than one kind of border, and he will be asked time and again to choose between survival and betrayal—of his country, his family, his heart.

I wouldn’t say this was the best book I have ever read, but it was enjoyable, interesting and informative, which is all I pretty much ask from any piece of fiction I read.

Corbett shows us life in the US post-9/11 from the viewpoint of the outsiders and disenfranchised. Roque Montalvo and his half-brother Godo, a damaged Iraq war veteran are citizens living with their Salvadoran aunt in California. Godo is suffering PTSD from his tour which he survived with horrific facial burns and mental scarring. Roque is playing his music, drifting along, earning some money but without any real responsibility or direction in his life. Their aunt and uncle eke out an existence on the breadline working in a supermarket and trucking loads respectively.

When his uncle is deported back to El Salvador after being arrested in a raid by immigration, the brothers’ cousin, Happy, enlists Roque’s help to get him back in the country. Happy having been previously deported and having returned successfully to the States himself, after paying feared Salvadoran gang, Mara Salvatrucha for passage through Guatemala and Mexico, is confident the same people traffickers can bring Tio Faustino back.

Roque out of a sense of duty towards family goes south to start a perilous trek back with his uncle and a couple of other hostages to fortune. Happy having arranged this end of the deal, hedges his bets by involving the same immigration guy that was involved in the original deportation. One of his uncle’s travelling companions is a Palestinian that Happy knew in Iraq when he was working out there. Samir Sadiq’s motives for infiltration into the US are unknown and worthy of being used as a bartering chip with the Feds to secure his own and his uncle’s permanent citizenship. The other transportee is Lupe, a Salvadoran singer and beauty due for delivery to a Mexican drug-lord en route.

Pretty straightforward then, until Happy and his cousin get crossed by the MS-13’s, setting off a chain of violent events both north and south of the border. Roque’s developing feelings for Lupe brings him into conflict with Samir at a time when the four travellers only have each other to trust and depend upon.

Immigration, drugs, war, security, terrorism, borders, people trafficking, renegade gun dealers, violence, betrayal, family loyalties and death all figure as Roque, Tio, Lupe and Samir continue the perilous journey north.     

My verdict; I found it interesting, engaging, though provoking and intelligent. Decent people facing harsh realities with little control over their fate pitted against faceless bureaucrats and violent gangsters happy to cause carnage and inflict death without regret, both pursuing their set agendas.

4 stars from 5

This is the author’s fourth book, originally published in 2010 and was my first taste of David Corbett. I will be reading more form Corbett in the future. His earlier books are listed below:

The Devil's Redhead (2002)

Done for a Dime (2003)

Blood of Paradise (2007)

I was sent a copy of this book by an internet friend from New York, who loved it. Cheers Mantan!  Show more


  1. Col - It does sound like a solid look at some of the harsh realities that some people face in the U.S. I'm intrigued too by the theme of 'the outsider.' Thanks for the fine review.

    1. Margot, thanks. It was a wee bit different from my regular crime reads, a bit more thought-provoking.

  2. Although this sounds a bit too hard-boiled for me, I am always intrigued by books with a theme of immigration/emigration, and as Margot says, the outsider thing too. So if I didn't have such a big TBR pile already... Can't help asking you, does Lupe the beautiful singer wear nice clothes?

    1. Moira, sadly not.......She was seated on a milk crate in the far corner, knees clenched tight, fists tucked beneath her arms. She had the slinky build of a dancer, a graceful neck, two dark moles dotting the hollow of her throat. Her lips were ripe and womanly but real, not plumped by a needle. She wore a white cotton top, jeans, sandals, her long black hair parted on one side and tied into a ponytail - a simple look, Roque thought, but this was no simple girl. She was a pichona, a stone beauty, and yet beneath the cocky edge he sensed damage, her face almost feral in its blankness, the mark of some thug's backhand darkening her cheek.

  3. Although I am sure this is too dark and gritty for me, the subject of decent people trying to survive does sound very good and very timely. If I see any of his books at a booksale, I will add them to my growing TBR pile.

    1. Tracy, I hope you cross paths with him soon then!

  4. When I read this book, there were some things I knocked in my review (I found the number of plot threads hard for my lazy brain to track and one of the scenes seemed too shockingly violent - though I wouldn't call it gratuitous at all) - but it has stayed with me longer than any book I've read in years. The writing is high quality, and the story of a young man trying to lead the way from El Salvador to the US border against terrible odds was kind of an Odyssey for the present moment in my country. I've loved all of his books. Far from the violent thrillers that people read for escapist entertainment - really though-provoking and memorable.- Barbara Fister

    1. Barbara, thanks for your comments. Yes I don't think it's a book you can forget in a hurry. I have his others on mount TBR, but I'm unsure when I will get to them. I'm off to try and track down your review now.