Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Hot Country

Robert Olen Butler
The Hot Country

Mysterious Press, 2012

A young American journalist Christopher Cobb in spring of 1914 is coming to Mexico, where the civil war is in full swing. At the inn Cobb notices a pretty laundress, which seems to Cobb not just a laundress. When an unknown sniper makes two attacks on the lives of American men here in Mexico, Cobb suggests that the sniper is a woman and that woman is the laundress. Much more than in a mysterious sniper the journalist is interested in the German ships at the dock and the question of why some Germans were brought to the city of Vera Cruz, under the cover of night. With the help of a young pickpocket Diego Cobb must find out for his newspaper, who the Germans are and what they want from Mexico.

The Hot Country is a sandwich from a good stylist Butler, where each ingredient separately tastes better than the whole. Cobb is on a train through the country in the grip of civil war, bumping into a gang of robbers and thugs, and this is Western. Cobb seeks a mysterious sniper who hasn’t killed the journalist in one night, and this is searing melodrama. Cobb acquires information and adds the bits of the story to his big report, and this is reporter's novel. Cobb, whose mother is actress, disguised as a German ambassador, and this is a picaresque novel. But collectively this novel fails as a spy novel. Cobb, however, says himself that he is a journalist, not a spy. Perhaps this is so. He is too chatty for a spy, that is just right for a newspaper reporter. Blame for this loquacious can be laid upon Butler: He wrote a novel in the first person, and what else journalists and actors can do, if not to tell, even to yourself.

«My breath caught hard in my chest and I waited. She waited too. Weighing my Americanness, I supposed. Weighing my life. Charting a path for herself.

Then the hammer uncocked and clicked softly back into place. The muzzle drew off my skin. The candle flame vanished in a puff of her breath and I lay very still as she slipped through the dark and out of the room and out of the life she'd left for me

Butler wrote a moderately exciting adventure story similar to the ones that were written at the beginning of the last century.

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