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An American Kill (The Whicher Series 2)

by John Stonehouse

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Recently added byRowenaHoseason

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All hell breaks out one night in the dusty heat of the Texas-Mexico borderlands. Freshly-minted US Marshal John Whicher is on border patrol, staring into the dense, dangerous darkness of desert scrub. He’s there to snag up a coyote, a trafficker, one of the modern-day bandits who benefit from the misery of the Mexican illegals they shepherd (or abandon) in the badlands.

There’s a flash of light; the crackle of rifle fire and all hell breaks loose. The combined / competing / conflicting US agencies couldn’t care less about five dead wetbacks. But Whicher is tasked to assist with the investigation into the murder of an American, and soon finds out he can’t draw the line between one dead human and another…

This is notionally the second in author John Stonehouse’s ‘Whicher’ series, but none of ‘An American Outlaw’ is relevant here as ‘Kill’ takes place a couple of decades earlier. So start with this novel, to immerse yourself in the dust and grime, the abrupt escalation of violence and scheming political intrigue on both sides of the border. Stonehouse has a real talent for dragging the reader through the prickly palms and dry river beds to dim, derelict hunting camps, where bad men brood and life is dirty and cheap.

There’s real cadence to the writing; you can hear the lilt and drawl in the speech. I’m reminded of James Crumley – The Mexican Tree Duck and many others – although Whicher is not beyond redemption, unlike many of Crumley’s characters. He is confused, however, feeling his way through a complex investigation which snakes back and forth across the border. He knows for almost-certain that some person in some law enforcement agency is rotten. But he doesn’t know who, and can’t even trust his own superior.

An American Kill demands your attention throughout. If you’ve read ‘Outlaw’ then you may be surprised by the pacing; ‘Kill’ is far less breathless and a much more measured read. Stonehouse also takes some risks with his central character. We don’t become intimate or comfortable with Whicher; he remains distant from us, although we perceive events from his perspective. In the final resolution, the protagonist remains – perhaps deliberately – indistinct and isolated.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens next in Whicher’s career. If, indeed, that IS what happens in the next 'American' novel…
8/10 ( )
  RowenaHoseason | Jun 22, 2016 |
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