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El Camino del Rio by Jim Sanderson
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El Camino del Rio

by Jim Sanderson

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This is one of the older mysteries that Brash Books is reissuing in paper and digital formats. It was originally published by the University of New Mexico Press in 1998 and it won the 1997 Frank Waters Southwest Writing Award.

This is the first in Mr. Sanderson's series about Border Patrol Senior Agent Dolph Martinez and it has aged quite well. We do not find cell phones or heated rhetoric about the evil Mexicans, but the landscape has not changed and within the vivid descriptions of geography and climate Dolph's mid-life reckoning is real.

I feel obliged to say, though, that some of the characters and situations aren't as believable as they might be and the racist language is long outdated, but I wasn't much bothered. I do question, though, how one survives being shot 4 times in the gut way out in the desert (leaving only one scar, too) but we must factor in divine intervention and a smaller gun bore.

I received a review copy of "El Camino del Rio" by Jim Sanderson (Brash) directly from the publisher. ( )
  Dokfintong | Feb 24, 2016 |
I am one of those native Texans, and there are a whole lot of us, who have never been down to South Texas, that part of the state that the uninitiated traveler suspects is as Mexican as it is American. We hear all the stories, especially post-9-11, about the open border down there but it doesn’t always seem real to us. Jim Sanderson’s El Camino Del Rio, which was actually written well before the 9-11 murders, paints a vivid picture of life in a small Texas border town. That world, as Sanderson depicts it, was already a complicated one for law enforcement officers on both sides of the border. One can only imagine what it must be like today.

Dolph Martinez, a Border Patrol officer in Presidio, Texas, spends his life caught in the middle. Despite his striking Hispanic physical appearance, Martinez, known as “Pretty Boy” to many of the locals, is only half Mexican (born to a Mexican idler and the daughter of a prominent South Texas rancher). Dolph has always chosen the path of least resistance in his life. The path to Presidio started for Dolph right out of high school when he turned down a scholarship to Rice University in favor of joining the military because, as one thing always leads to another, that’s where he finds himself now – in charge of a Border Patrol office assigned the impossible task of stopping the flow of illegals into Texas and guns into Mexico.

This time around, though, it’s going to take more than just bringing a few Mexicans back to the border bridge and watching them cross back into Mexico. Dolph and his people are finding dead bodies on the Texas side of the border, and the men responsible for the murders are on the Mexican side of the line. Dolph knows that he is going to need to work both sides if he is to stop the killing before anyone else dies – and he knows just how to do that. What he doesn’t foresee is how many of his friends and co-workers are going to become casualties of one type or another before this one is over.

El Camino Del Rio is a highly atmospheric snapshot of what the border was like when illegal drugs and guns crossing the border was still the biggest problem that South Texas law officials encountered. Sanderson’s colorful characters are all trying to make the best of the hybrid world they live in by picking and choosing the best on offer from both sides. However, the familiarity they have with how things are done in Mexico is a double-edged sword, one that most certainly cuts both ways. Dolph Martinez is good at what he does, but he has his hands full with the rogue do-gooder nun offering safe haven to as many illegals as she can round up, the friend who is determined to construct a “hot springs” tourist attraction in one of the hottest locations in the United States, and the tall blonde who catches his eye when he can least afford it.

This one is fun…and I’ll be darned if it doesn’t make me want to drive all the way down to Presidio to take an outsider’s look at that world for myself. ( )
  SamSattler | Feb 4, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0826319904, Hardcover)

Frank Waters was one of the best writers ever to catch the complex essence of the American Southwest. His books--The Man Who Killed the Deer, People of the Valley, The Woman at Otowi Crossing--are still widely read, and the University of New Mexico sponsors an annual writing contest in his name. Jim Sanderson, who teaches English at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, won the 1997 Waters Award for this tough, compassionate first novel about a U.S. Border Patrol agent named Dolph Martinez. A compact man with a Mexican father and an American mother, Martinez struggles daily with the conflicting instincts of himself and his two countries.

El Camino Del Rio is based in the depressing Texas backwater town of Presidio. Living in a seedy, failed resort hotel, Martinez keeps his ambition and intelligence in check and patrols the country around El Camino del Rio--Highway 170, which runs close to the Rio Grande. Near the body of a murdered drug runner, Martinez finds a small vial of blue liquid, the same magic charm pressed into his own hand by a feisty nun named Sister Quinn when he was badly wounded four years before. Sister Quinn seems to be involved with smuggling illegal aliens, especially political ones, into the U.S., but Martinez has never been able to catch her. Now she also appears to be part of a scheme by the Mexican government to capture a renegade named Vincent Fuentes. Also caught up in the action is a tall, striking blonde woman with an equally mysterious agenda, and a gallery of rogues from both sides of the border. Frank Waters would have approved of Sanderson's ability to capture the atmosphere while sustaining a strong narrative. --Dick Adler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:19 -0400)

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