i'm always on the lookout for great contemporary american crime fiction, for stuff that can stand up to the old guys. a few days ago donald tells me to read kem nunn, so i pick up tijuana straits. in the club of great american contemporary crime writers. his contemporaries, those more highly regarded crime scribblers, they don't have shit on this guy: the overall construction and conception of this book goes places they don't even know exist.
This is also the story of Armando Santoya, a young man whose dreams were destroyed by the reality of living in a chemically poisoned Tijuana run as much by narcotraficantes as a government only interested in American dollars. Divided in to three parts Kem Nunn has written a slow building suspense filled tale of loss and redemption, in the first part we are introduced to our three main characters, given extensive background on how their lives came to be so messed up, in the second they are put on a path of action that you know will bring them all together, you know it will be devastating when it occurs and then part three doesn't live up to that promise, at least not in any way I would have expected.
The nearby slums of Tijuana with its toxic abandoned factories is a similarly terrifying landscape that breeds the three killers whose remorseless actions propel the plot to finale of redemption for Nunns protagonist Fahey.
Now he is out hunting wild dogs (he also runs a worm farm) on the dunes of Tijuana, when he saves Magdalena, who is an environmental activist on the run from assassins hired by foreign factory owners who have destroyed her country. Tijuana Straits is very much a book of place. The rotting and desolate places ("the beaches they found littered with patches of foam and uprooted kelp and these arranged in positions that might have passed for bodies of the slain") described in the book are wastelands filled with factories to employ the weak, the defeated, the violent and the damaged and bars and whorehouses to keep them dulled.
The story unfolds (unravels?) in the Tijuana River Valley lying between the southernmost city in California, Imperial Beach, and the neighboring Mexican city for which it is named. Along with the toxic brew that flows via the Tijuana River into the valley, polluting the estuary and chasing surfers from the beach break, locals like Fahey are at the forefront of the human wave surging at the base of the high-tech walls built to keep them out of the U.S. Still they come: And so you would see them, scarecrows with frightened eyes loitering in the shadows of the fence, along the cement walls of the flood control channel, at the bottom of every gully, clear to Las Playa, where they huddled amid the reek of excrement in the shadow of the bullring at the edge of the old people's park, fingering rosaries and counting out their luck.
ACCURATE STAR RATING= 3.5 why did I read this book? Kem Nunn has a good grasp on local character, biology, and urban setting. VERDICT: overall a decent read and especially interesting for people who live in the San Diego area.
After reading this book, you will never think of Imperial Beach, California the same again.
But of course in his noir style most of Kem Nunn's simile / metaphors work like an old Chevy V8 small block powering a rusted body rotted tractor with 6 foot sand tires pulling a beach combing sled.
Milch and Nunn co-created the HBO series John from Cincinnati, a surfing series set in Imperial Beach, California which premiered on June 10, 2007.