The Bottom Line: A meticulously-crafted and atmospheric thriller that explores themes of homecoming, survivor’s guilt, forgiveness and the impact of war on returning soldiers.
Matt Bradley carries a scar on his face that will forever remind him and others of his service in Vietnam. The only survivor when his helicopter was shot down by the Viet Cong, he has applied his military training as a tracker to his post-war civilian life. Working as a Border Patrol officer, he patrols the remote corners of Allen County, tracking dopers and smugglers.
Despite establishing a post-war career, Matt’s life is far from easy. He’s haunted by the horrors of war and struggles with survivor’s guilt, and has obvious trouble relating to old friends and family members. Meanwhile, Curtis “Curt” Mendoza, who served as a Green Beret in the war prior to coming home, becomes the subject of a murder investigation. It seems that James Allen, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, is murdered during an apparent robbery. Ultimately, Matt will be called upon as a witness in Mendoza’s trial, and there will be far more at stake than just the question of who committed the murder.
Readers looking for a tightly written crime thriller should look elsewhere, as author Poli Flores Jr. has obviously set out to write something far more grand and vivid in scale. Told through the observations of eagle-eyed local Samuel Mendoza, Flores patiently and delicately builds the gritty world and era in which the Bradley, Mendoza and Allen families live. Each chapter is filled with outstanding detail, ranging from the introduction of McDonald’s Big Mac to the precise outfits worn at a prom in 1964 to the grisly details of specific investigations. Dispatches from the Sonora Desert Review, delivered like potent shots of tequila, become addictive as they rattle off both community events and world events, ranging from local obituaries to Dodgers scores to the release of new Rolling Stones albums.
Flores’ approach is reminiscent of Garrison Keiller’s Lake Wobegon series. Through a variety of techniques, Flores delivers a rare level of insight into the psyche of the community itself – particularly in relation to the downstream effects of war. By the book’s tense final chapters, some of which happens in court, readers will feel as if they know its inhabitants intimately. As the epilogue closes, this reader felt as if he was saying farewell to old friends.