Well-written historical fiction stuffed with action and adventure.

CIBOLERO

In Lopez’s novel, a father’s search for his abducted daughter toggles back to his own past and the larger picture of the exploitation of New Mexico in the mid-19th century.

Antonio Jose Baca wishes only to raise his family in peace on his ranchito near the Pecos River in New Mexico. A ragtag detachment of Texas Rangers shows up, hungry and lost, and in the space of an hour, they have roughed up his wife, shot their young son (he survives), kidnapped their daughter, Elena, and high-tailed it back to Texas. Antonio, of course, sets out after them. He does have an advantage. In his youth, he was a cibolero, a buffalo hunter, on those forbidding plains still called the Llano Estacado. He is an expert tracker, and his blood is up. In a series of flashbacks, we learn the geography of the area and its history that goes back centuries. We learn how the Civil War would affect things and how the rise of Texas threatened the nuevomexicanos from the beginning (“So far from God…and so close to Texas”). After 1848, the U.S. claims New Mexico, and immigrants—gringos—come pouring in. Suddenly, the nuevomexicanos and Indigenous people are second-class citizens and displaced on their own land, and the arrogant gringo soldiers are deservedly hated. Revolts are mounted but inevitably and brutally put down. We follow Antonio until the end of his quest.

Lopez is an authority on New Mexican history and topography, and his novel rings true throughout. He is also a very talented writer with nary a false step (“To the Tejanos the llano is a useless desert, Antonio thought. To the Indians and Ciboleros, it is a world filled with life”). Antonio is well drawn, and Lopez is even better with his villains. Those Texas Rangers differ from an outlaw gang only because their leader, Capt. Travis Russell, has a conscience. The others range from simpletons to the truly psychopathic, especially one J.D. Calhoun, scion of Texas money. Again one thinks of arrogance, a defining and infuriating trait of these interlopers—the Texas gang, Gen. Stephen Kearny who rubbed the nuevomexicanos’ noses in the American takeover, the drunken, murderous troopers, the condescension of Kit Carson and Charles Bent. (One can’t help but cheer when Bent’s head is paraded around Taos on a pikestaff.) Especially satisfying is the way the Ranger contingent is thoroughly spooked when two of the young troopers run into serious trouble. They assume the feared Comanche are to blame. Antonio is the relentless avenger, particularly deadly, and one feels the noose tightening. There are all sorts of side stories here, too, each a little nugget, and small episodes, like the murder of Nathan, a Black man, and Antonio’s efforts to rescue his orphaned children. And keep your eye on Josiah Smith, “the preacher.” There are nasty surprises and, oddly, some sweet interludes.

Well-written historical fiction stuffed with action and adventure.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-59-543567-8

Page Count: 182

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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