World Crime Atlas: in a borderland of guns and crazy people

The retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country in The Times Atlas of the World makes its first foray into the United States – and dips a bloodied toecap into Mexico while it’s at it.

The Country: United States (Texas). The country is so vast and so diverse that one state is hardly going to do it justice; so we shall simply have to read a book set in each of them. This project just got bigger.

The book: The Last Second Chance, by Jim Nesbitt.

The plot: A world-weary private investigator (is there any other kind?) sets out to avenge the death of his ex-police colleague, is set-up by a drug dealer, and ends up being pursued by both the police and criminals as he crosses the Texas-Mexico border seeking vengeance.

Where: We are in a Texas dragged down by oil and property slumps. The action starts in Dallas, “a city that could cut your heart out, eat it, than smile. If a profit could be turned.” The plot takes us to Texas Hill Country and over the border into Mexico.

The Detectives: Ed Earl Burch, kicked off the force after three disciplinary strikes against his name, is the sort of private investigator who works out of a cheap office where the desk is buried under “a scatter of newsprint, files, Wendy’s wrappers, Coke bottles, girlie and gun magazines, crisscross directories and the phone.” Police officer Cider Jones, and deputy sheriffs Stevie Mack Lloyd and Ray McCrary also have parts to play; they do not always end well.

Sense of Place: The author describes himself as a lapsed hunter, among other things, and the plot is liberally populated with detailed descriptions of the mini arsenal of firearms used variously by Burch, Jones, a mystery woman called Carla Sue Cantrell who joins Burch on his revenge mission, and the exotically-named hitman Wille ‘Badhair’ Stonecipher. We get the picture; the Tex-Mex borderland is a dangerously trigger-happy place. Texas Hill Country is “a deceptive land, scenic from afar, scrubby and scraggly up close, a green and rolling panorama built on dusty disappointment.” Nesbitt presents  a nightmarish vision of mysticism which involves voodoo and native American gods mixed-up in ceremonies that appear mainly to involve removing and eating human hearts; perhaps it is all the effect of a land where the waves of midday heat can suck a man “drier than a Baptist prayer meeting” and leave him seeing “visions in the shimmering bands of heated air, snaking skyward, blurring the view.”  This land is hot, dusty, dangerous and more than a little deranged by the heat.

Where are we going next? Pakistan; the book is Mule Train, by Huw Francis.

 

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