FIFTY GRAND by Adrian McKinty

Book Quote:

“Enshrined within the Colonial Spanish penal code is the Latin maxim talem qualem, which means you take your victim as you find him. American cops call it the eggshell skull rule. Slap someone with a delicate cranium, break it, and they’ll still charge you with murder. Talem qualem. Take your victim as you find him. In other words, be careful who you kill.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Guy Savage (AUG 18, 2009)

Special: Author Interview

Adrian McKinty’s latest thriller Fifty Grand begins in Wyoming on a frozen lake as a masked assailant forces a naked man at gunpoint to hammer a hole in the ice and then jump into the freezing water. Sobbing and begging for mercy, the man asks, “How did it come to this?” Then the novel goes back in time to answer that question.

Fifty Grand is narrated by female Cuban detective, Mercado. Mercado’s father defected to the U.S from Cuba years before, and while his abandoned wife is now a borderline nutjob, Mercado and her brother, Ricky never really got over the shock or the taint of their father’s defection. Now years later, Mercado learns that her father has been killed in a hit-and-run accident near Fairview, Colorado. Sketchy details that seep back to Cuba reveal that he was making a meager living as a ratcatcher. Apart from the ugly fact that Mercado’s father crawled off to die and that no one has been arrested for the crime, Mercado is also haunted by questions about her father’s desertion of his Cuban family. Since Mercado is not allowed to travel to the US from Cuba, she gets a week’s leave of absence supposedly to travel to Mexico City. But once there, Mercado takes an enormous risk and posing as an illegal immigrant, she pays her way across the border into America.

As planned, Mercado, who now goes by the name “Maria,” ends up in the wealthy ski resort of Fairview. It’s a nasty little tight-assed town owned by the corrupt Sheriff Briggs. Briggs has reason to believe that the Hollywood Scientologist crowd will make a vacation nest in Fairview and with Tom Cruise firmly in place as part of the advance landing crew, Briggs buys illegals to work the hotels and local businesses. He expects the illegals to be invisible, compliant and assist him–under threat of violence–in the upcoming economic boom.

Mercado begins working as a maid and in this capacity she sees the other side of Fairview: the cocaine, the prostitution, and the endless partying of the Hollywood crowds–those on their way up, and those on their way down. She has just a week to investigate her father’s death before she must return to Cuba, and if she fails to return, the consequences towards those she loves will be painful. Naturally since her father defected, there are those in Cuba who imagine Mercado will do the same if given the chance, but the detective sees America as some sort of racist assault course to be negotiated and barely tolerated until she discovers the truth about her father’s death.

Irish novelist McKinty isn’t that widely read in North America, but perhaps Fifty Grand will expand this author’s readership. Perhaps best known for his Forsthye trilogy (Dead I Well May Be, The Dead Yard, The Bloomsday Dead) McKinty is a versatile novelist who appears to have slipped easily into the skin of a female Cuban detective with the result that Mercado is a dynamic, believable character from page one. Fifty Grand is weakest when we question how an illegal alien smuggled in by a coyote and sold to local law enforcement, and now in America for less than a week has the time or the energy to sniff around the rich and famous of Fairview. The fact that Mercado is apparently so unsupervised and has oodles of free time defies credibility, and this implausibility nagged at me during parts of the novel. However, that complaint aside, for the most of the novel, McKinty’s narrative is so strong, that the skepticism of “Maria’s” work demands takes a back seat to the action.

The novel creates a portrait of a troubled Cuba, a country harnessed by the restraints placed by Castro and with conflicting forces waiting in the wings to carve up the prize when Castro dies. Mercado questions Cuba’s systems and yet when she arrives in the so-called paradise of America, she’s automatically placed at the bottom of the totem pole, and is treated like trash by the wealthy whose homes she cleans. As a result, both worlds are seen as unpleasant places–poverty-stricken Cuba in limbo until Castro dies, and America with its vastly contrasting worlds of the filthy rich and the dirt poor who serve them. Fifty Grand’s strength is in its excellent, clever structure, and consequently, the novel is much more intense than many thrillers I’ve read this year. McKinty is a bold writer who isn’t afraid of handing out advance plot information as a means to tease us into the story.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 17 readers
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Co. (April 28, 2009)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage



And other Cuban Detective novels:


Dead Trilogy:

The Troubles Trilogy:

August 18, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Cuba, Mystery/Suspense, US Frontier West, y Award Winning Author

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