Tijuana Straits, Kem Nunn, Scribner, $15.00.
It's a well known fact that I'm a little dotty on the subject of Kem Nunn. I think he's not only the greatest writer most people have never heard of but also one of the best writers around, period, regardless of genre. Even though his sublime novel Pomona Queen was nominated for a Best Novel Edgar, Nunn's books aren't exactly mysteries, but can more accurately be described as crime novels or even adventure stories, but only in the sense that a writer like Joseph Conrad, say, wrote crime novels or adventure stories. Nunn knows how to combine action with gravity, violence with philosophy, and he demonstrates it in his latest triumph, Tijuana Straits.
What's even more impressive about Nunn's work is that, even though he's produced one amazing novel after another, his artistry has grown and matured with each one. Tijuana Straits revolves around the typical Nunnian hero, Sam "The Gull" Fahey, a pill popping ex-surfer who's wiped out and now wants to have as little to do with the world as possible. Into his jaded existence comes Magdalena, a young Mexican lawyer and social crusader, on the run from unknown enemies across the border. Against his better judgement, Sam offers Magdalena sanctuary, and slowly these disparate spirits draw together, little knowing that malevolence is inevitably drawing toward them.
One of the strangest characters in the book is Magdalena's nemesis, Armando Santoya, a fully realized, almost sympathetic psychopath, the spawn of the toxic shadows America casts to the south. In opposing him Sam has one last chance for redemption, a final opportunity to ride the "mystic peak," even if it results in the sacrifice of his own life.
Nunn's fully realized characters combine with his beautiful prose, seamless swift plot, and vivid setting to produce a work that satisfies on every level. Read Tijuana Straits and become a Nunn nut like me!
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