Written by Jim Stewart — Here we have another PI novel, but if you want mean streets, neon bar signs reflected in rainy sidewalks, and the seedy underbelly of a city where dreams go to die, then look elsewhere. We start in Oregon, where the air is cold and clean, and the high prairie is a vast open space where men are men, and women generally wear jeans, check shirts, and drive pickup trucks.
Mike Ironwood is a Vietnam veteran who plies his trade as an investigator solving other people’s problems. When Willimina ‘Willy’ Hayes engages him to find out the identity of whoever is trying to buy her farm, and why, he jumps at the chance to help. He and his half-brother Daniel, whose mother was a Nez Perce Native American, soon find that this is not just an ambitious and pushy real estate issue, but a distinctly dangerous affair. Their opponents all belong in The Mexican Drug Industry Hall of Infamy.
The target of the bad men is not the ranch but Willimina herself. She is kidnapped and the culprits seem to be an unholy alliance between a drug cartel and a rogue DEA officer. It becomes clear that this is an abduction-to-order. Willimina is on the menu, and the customer is the ruthless drug baron Gustavo Flores. Why was she taken? Because years earlier Flores took a shine to her when she was a relief worker in war-torn Guatemala.
So, Mike and Daniel head off to Mexico with enough weaponry to equip a small Third World country. Springing Willimina from the jungle hacienda Flores calls home – before her virtue can be compromised – is the easy bit. Getting back to Oregon in one piece is another matter altogether, as it seems the world and his wife have good reason to eliminate Mike, Daniel and Willimina. Along the way, they discover that Flores and his minions have been involved in trafficking a commodity more valuable than drugs – young women.
This is a cracking read, well written and expertly plotted. The short punchy chapters drive the action forwards relentlessly, and Ironwood is a reliably tough hero with just the right mixture of emotional honesty and physical invincibility. My only complaint concerns Ironwood’s dog. No, it’s not a poop and scoop violation, but the fact that the author updates us on the canine far too frequently. Thankfully, when Ironwood embarks for Mexico he mercifully leaves the pooch behind.
If you want an action thriller with a high body count and a hero who could happily rub shoulders with John Rambo and Jack Reacher, then you will love this book. Assuming that author Jim Stewart’s take on the Machiavellian relationship between the CIA, the DEA and the FBI – the Alphabet Boys – is even half accurate, it lays bare the almost impossible task that the US government faces in policing its southern border. Stewart’s book also sounds a chilling resonance between those who profit from illegal immigration across the Rio Grande, and problems much closer to home here in Britain.
If you like the idea of a determined special ops attempt to liberate a young woman from the grips of a drug lord, then you will enjoy T Jefferson Parker’s The Jaguar, which we reviewed back in 2012.
World Hermit Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars