Jorge Renaud

If any country continues to clothe itself in the cloak of its history, it is Spain. Gloriously proud of their short-lived arc as a world power following Spain's conquest of the New World, Spaniards are at the same time defensive of the aristocratic excesses of their blue-blooded imperials. Out of this dichotomy, Arturo PŽrez-Reverte has fashioned a hero as fine and tempered as the blade of Toledo steel he has mastered Captain Diego Alatriste, swordsman for hire.

PŽrez-Reverte's reputation as a writer who seamlessly blends intellectual stimulation with breathless action was richly burnished with his last novel, The Queen of the South. In Captain Alatriste, which is the first of a series written years ago and now being released in English, the author visits an era when the glitter of New World gold masks a terrible truth Imperial Spain is corrupt and dying. Dukes and counts jockey for a playboy king's favor, common Spaniards live on centavos and the Grand Inquisition still casts its fanatic shadow over them all. Woven through the book is a sense of desperation, of time slipping away as Spain squanders her fortune and her soldiers.

Amid the intrigue and betrayal, Diego Alatriste clings to the triple truths that govern a Spanish caballero's life: honor, courage and friendship. Wounded during the Thirty Years' War, Alatriste hires out his blade and raises the son of a dead comrade. Accepting a contract to waylay two English travelers, Alatriste's refusal to butcher a courageous man sends ripples through the Spanish court, the Inquisition and the English monarchy. Suspenseful and literate, Captain Alatriste is a novel to be savored, and Alatriste himself is a man to be admired, but from a distance, lest the steel in his blade and his soul prove too high a standard. He is not just a hero he is all that Spain aspired to be, and, for too brief a time, might have been. Jorge Antonio Renaud writes from Texas.

If any country continues to clothe itself in the cloak of its history, it is Spain. Gloriously proud of their short-lived arc as a world power following Spain's conquest of the New World, Spaniards are at the same time defensive of the aristocratic excesses of their blue-blooded imperials. Out of this dichotomy, Arturo PŽrez-Reverte has […]

I want to live in Wyoming. In Elk Tooth, to be exact, where I would drink shots with and compare beards to and maybe drag home the people Annie Proulx knows. Surely she knows them. There's no other explanation for the pulsing blood of life and death and hilarity that oozes from every living being (alligators and wolves and elks included) in her new short-story collection, Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2. With these 11 stories, Proulx cements a reputation built on The Shipping News, Accordion Crimes and Close Range. As in those works, here Proulx favors us with characters as spare, quirky and unforgiving as the Wyoming landscape itself. In Hellhole, Warden Creel Zmundzinski is at first befuddled by, then deeply grateful for, a pipeline to Hell that crisps the despoilers of his beloved backcountry. So what if he's roastin' citizens in there like ears a corn, as his friend Plato Bucklew accuses? Wyoming needs saving from tourists and outsiders, and if the devil signs on as an ally, Zmundzinski couldn't care less.

Gilbert Wolfscale, the grim rancher in What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick? loves the land with an almost obsessive devotion. Yet Wolfscale's beloved ranch is held in contempt by his citified sons, and his bewilderment is palpable and unforgettable.

As always in a book by Proulx, it is the details of plot, setting and character that hook the mind's eye and remain there after the story fades. From the hay-bale bearing flatbed, afire and hurtling through the Wyoming dawn in The Trickle Down Effect, to the alligators easing after the dumb cows encroaching on a creatively vengeful gardener in the collection-closing Florida Rental, Bad Dirt makes you want to move to Wyoming, buy a ranch and snigger at the rest of the world. Jorge A. Renaud reviews from Texas.

I want to live in Wyoming. In Elk Tooth, to be exact, where I would drink shots with and compare beards to and maybe drag home the people Annie Proulx knows. Surely she knows them. There's no other explanation for the pulsing blood of life and death and hilarity that oozes from every living being […]

Teresa Mendoza is a living doll, a painted, prettied-up bangle on the arm of a pilot smuggler for Mexican drug lords. She shops and drinks and waits for the inevitable for her seemingly bulletproof boyfriend to skim one kilo of cocaine too many from his murderous employers. When he does, when his bosses kill him and order everyone around him eradicated as an example, Teresa escapes to lovely, deadly Spain.

So begins The Queen of the South, the tale of a shockingly bold Mexican woman who schemes her way to the top of the only profession she knows: drug smuggling. In his newest novel, Arturo PŽrez-Reverte creates a woman whose courage, intelligence and will make her more than a match for the men around her.

PŽrez-Reverte, whose previous novels include The Flanders Panel and The Fencing Master, is in no hurry here. His research is so meticulous, his touch with characters so deft, that you are inexorably drawn into Teresa's world of international smuggling and multinational thugs. Surly Frenchmen, ham-faced Russians, elegant Moroccans all are outwitted by Teresa. Her astonishing success is chronicled by the adoring European press and brings her to the attention of her old Mexican enemies.

PŽrez-Reverte understands that the glamour of the narcosmuggler is rooted in the codes of revenge and honor that the futureless poor of all countries hold dear. He has Teresa clinging to that code as she returns to Mexico to face the killers of her first love in an unforgettable showdown that cements the Queen's legend in a country whose corridos musical poems glorifying the underdog have long championed lawless rebels.

The Queen of the South is audacious, and its heroine uncommon, but it is PŽrez-Reverte's pace, unhurried and unforced, and his superb attention to detail, that makes the Spanish novelist's sixth book so mesmerizing. The Queen of the South is that rare blessing a book by a mature writer at the top of his game, unwilling to settle for less than his best.

Teresa Mendoza is a living doll, a painted, prettied-up bangle on the arm of a pilot smuggler for Mexican drug lords. She shops and drinks and waits for the inevitable for her seemingly bulletproof boyfriend to skim one kilo of cocaine too many from his murderous employers. When he does, when his bosses kill him […]

When the first caveman took chisel to stone, it was likely he did so to record the passionate stirrings he felt toward the lady he loved. Of all the emotions, love has inspired more books than the others combined, but rarely have its manifestations been recorded in so dazzling a fashion as they are by Ernesto Mestre-Reed in his second novel, The Second Death of Unica Aveyano. Love for family and country; love unrequited and unearned; love that inspires spirits to return and rambunctious teen angels to walk Miami beaches is what moves nica Aveyano a 67-year-old, cancer-stricken Cuban refugee to continue her struggle with life after trying to drown herself in the opening chapters.

Mestre-Reed uses the magical realism adopted by Latin greats Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende and makes it his own. Every luminous word, every astonishing image feels as if it must naturally follow the word before, so deft is Mestre-Reed's touch and so willing are we to believe his enchanting tale.

Using the Elian Gonzales fiasco as a prod to nica's simmering bitterness over leaving her beloved Cuba, Mestre-Reed moves from past to present in Unica's life and introduces readers to a fascinating cast of characters. These include nica's son, Candido, a master lover of both sexes whose mournful ministrations attract disaffected couples in need of sexual healing; Candido's son, Patricio, a hustler and dabbler in illicit drugs until he finds fulfillment with nica's stern nurse, Lucas; Candido's wife, Miriam, angry and spiteful despite her American success; and Modesto, nica's husband, whose solidarity and devotion bring nica back to life once, then again.

In less sure hands, the fantastic events of nica's life would be dismissed. But in scene after magical scene Salvador Dali painting a portrait of a Russian housing unit covered in blooming wisteria in so lifelike a fashion that the real, infertile wisteria blooms in response; sexually ripe angels with seaweed for hair, trying to assist Unica when she walks into the ocean in an attempt to drown Mestre-Reed weaves a story of such richness and delight that one cannot imagine nica and her life rendered any other way, by any other writer.

Jorge A. Renaud writes from Tennessee Colony, Texas.

 

When the first caveman took chisel to stone, it was likely he did so to record the passionate stirrings he felt toward the lady he loved. Of all the emotions, love has inspired more books than the others combined, but rarely have its manifestations been recorded in so dazzling a fashion as they are by […]

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