Somewhere out in the fictional desert between “Breaking Bad” and No Country for Old Men, death is stalking its next victim in Gabino Iglesias’ spellbinding third novel, The Devil Takes You Home. The word spellbinding is used advisedly here, because the novel’s interweaving of fantastical elements with sudden and savage violence will leave unwary readers stunned.
It’s a story as old as Job: A good guy, beset by horrible circumstances, tries to preserve his faith and sanity in the face of unrelenting misery. In the biblical tale, Job holds fast to his soul; in this one, Mario goes down a darker road. Overwhelmed by medical expenses and offered a chance to make some quick money as a hit man, Mario hesitates only for a moment before packing heat and becoming an avenging angel.
It’s not uncommon for those who live in the shadow of criminality to dream of one big score that will put them on easy street, and Mario’s friend Brian offers him a piece of this dream: They will claim one cartel’s shipment of money for a different cartel and thus receive a handsome chunk of the reward. When Brian and Mario meet Don Vázquez, the baddest of the bad and the head of the Juárez Cartel, they try to exchange pleasantries: “Thank you, Brian,” Don Vázquez replies, “but I was just telling your friend Mario that meeting me is never a pleasure; meeting me is something that happens to people because they have made a bad decision.”
As with most noir narratives, this one is rife with bad decisions, many of them lethal. Iglesias does masterful work with Mario’s internal narration as he puzzles over which of his partners poses the greatest potential threat. Much of the novel switches back and forth between Spanish and English, and both languages are integral to the story, making them all the more worthwhile to comprehend.
The world of The Devil Takes You Home is harsh and unforgiving, its desert the most treacherous terrain. Iglesias does such a place justice in his brawny, serpentine and remarkably poignant novel.