Monday, May 23, 2016

Mean Streets

Zero Saints

 By Gabino Iglesias 

Publisher: Broken River Books 

Pub Date: November 14, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Zero Saints is as gritty and uncompromising a novel you will find while still being glad you read it. Gabino Iglesias places his story in Austin, Texas. It is not the urban chic Austin of SXSW or Austin City Limits but the Austin of gangs, drug dealers and a displaced people. Fernando has crossed from Mexico into the Austin streets but have not escaped the terror of the gangs. While his life is still hard, being a drug-dealer in Austin is still better than the horrors that affected his family south of the border. But he is about to realize that may no longer be true. At the beginning of Zero Saints, he has been abducted by a group of drug dealers who want him to take a message to his boss that they were taking over some of the territory. That message includes Fernando watching his friend being tortured and having his head sawed off. This new gang is of a level that is past anything Fernando has experienced. . They seem to have special powers emanating from a source of dark magic. Even Fernando's paid enforcers are afraid to take them on. But Fernando has a need for revenge and honor even when everything tells him it is hopeless.

There are many things that make this novel stand out from the load of similar crime and gang novels. First is the main character. Fernando may not be what most readers consider a role model but he is honorable in his own way. He has values and faith. That is something the reader can identify with. The second thing is the language in the book. Almost half is in Spanish yet it does not slow it down. It flows effortlessly through the pages blending into the plot and action. I could read some of it even though I do not understand Spanish very well, it is the language of the streets that I am familiar with. Let's just say the Spanish I heard as a child was not taught in the schools. Yet except for occasional large portions of prayer, it is not only easy to get the gist but it places you there in the midst of the action and angst. And that leads to the third reason this book is so vibrant. The flow. It doesn't stop whether it is violent action or a tense conversation or the moving emotions of the past and present going through the mind of the protagonist. Iglesias have developed in under 200 pages a very real glimpse of life in these parts of the United States. The supernatural aspects are only a tease to the real messages in this book.

If I read Zero Saints last year when it came out, there would be no doubt it would have been on my top ten list. But I didn't. That is no reason to miss it. As long as we have urban life, as long as cultures collide, and as long as we tolerate an underclass of immigrants, this book will have relevance. I give my top recommendation to Zero Saints.

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