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By Adrian McKinty
Henry Holt & Co., 2009 ($25.00)
Reviewed by Katherine Petersen
Mercado, a Cuban police detective finds out someone killed her father, a Cuban defector, during a hit-and-run in the town of Fairview, Colorado. But it’s worse than that. He didn’t die instantly. Suffering from a punctured lung, he tried to climb the embankment to safety until he froze from the blistering winter weather. Bent on revenge, Mercado -- calling herself Maria, obtains a Visa to Mexico City and then crosses the U.S. border and journeys to Colorado to determine who killed her father and return the favor.
Fairview isn’t an average American city, but a small town getaway for the rich and famous. Maria works as a maid in the big houses while conducting her investigation, finding the garages in town and tracking down anyone who had accidents on the Old Boulder road for the few days around which her father died. She befriends, Paco, a worker from Nicaragua who crossed the border with her, and Jack, an actor who seems to just miss out on opportunities. She also butts heads with the sheriff, who makes it clear from the start that it’s his town, and nothing happens that he doesn’t know about.
Rather than telling his story in straight chronological order, Adrian McKinty starts towards the end in the first chapter, moves towards the beginning in the second and then goes back to the start in the third. They’re strong scenes and set the determined tone of the story. He has created a wonderfully realistic character in Mercado, intense yet vulnerable. She’s a woman who recognizes her strengths and acknowledges her weaknesses and questions what she’s doing more than once. She’s bent on revenge, but her journey is also one of self-discovery.
What sets this novel above so many others is McKinty’s prose: flowing and lyrical, more like poetry at times. He uses short, staccato phrasing usually at the beginning of chapters to describe dreams or landscapes.
"Blindfolded dawn. Sound, then light. A timer clicks, a motor whirrs and the curtains pull back by themselves. Snow at morning’s door. A pinkish white dusting on the balcony rail.
The sun inching over the front range but as yet invisible behind a smother of low, grey clouds. Above the clouds, a red sky turning American blue.
Hairs on the back of my neck standing up.
This isn’t a book to speed through but one to savor, often pausing to read sentences out loud to appreciate the beauty, the mood, the language and the unique way he uses words.
McKinty’s story has some surprises as well, but his talent for description extends to Havana. While I’ve never visited, I think his Havana comes close to reality. He also touches on important issues such as illegal Mexicans working in the U.S., incorporating their treatment and reactions into the story. He gives the reader enough information for one to pause and think but not to overwhelm.
FIFTY GRAND has a lot going for it, and fans who like more than just a fast-paced plot will appreciate McKinty’s nuances and talent for language and storytelling.
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