The Bottom Line: A shockingly plausible political thriller that transcends the usual worst-case-scenario about American border security. Bill King has successfully captured the spirit of Yellowstone and transported it to South Texas. Highly recommended.
As The Salty Iguana opens, four men swearing allegiance to the Revolutionary Republic of Yucatec del Norte sneak onto a historic South Texas ranch. Their goal is to kidnap the ranch’s 60-year-old owner, Santiago Stephenson. Unbeknownst to them, Stephenson is away with the Texas governor. And minutes later, all four men are dead.
This is just one of many under-the-radar skirmishes for control of what was once White Oak County in South Texas, and is now the Revolutionary Republic of Yucatec del Norte. In any other era, author Bill King’s concept – the occupation of a South Texas county by a politically motivated migrant group – might seem like dystopian sci-fi. But in an era where floods of migrants at the southern border are all too common, King’s carefully crafted scenario is frighteningly easy to imagine.
After an overwhelming number of migrants enter Texas from Mexico, a county judge declares a state of emergency, leading to the establishment of humanitarian settlement camps. Among the invaders is Chimalmat, aka the Mother of Giants, an American-educated woman who eventually orchestrates the takeover of a County commissioners court, which then declares itself an independent country called the Revolutionary Republic of Yucatec del Norte. The movement is allegedly tied to a quest to reclaim land stolen from the group’s ancestors centuries before, despite the fact that the Mayans were never actually there.
The new country is set to celebrate its six-month anniversary, complete with visiting dignitaries from a variety of nations, including the presidents of Cuba and Venezuela. Charlie Barcelona, mayor of the country seat and a wealthy financier who spent four decades between New York and Mexico City, is among those urging the governor to do something – “Troops…embargo…perhaps, even military action.”
Among King’s sizable cast of characters, Charlie is often the voice of reason in a chorus of insanity. WIth the Texas and American governor’s largely paralyzed, and pro-occupation trade groups vying for an audience with the Mother of Giants, Charlie can only be described as the John Dutton of South Texas. Deeply patriotic, but far from an extremist, Charlie quietly wields power that his enemies can only dream of, complete with armed loyalists who protect him and his inner circle.
King, author of The Consular Official and a retired army officer, excels once again at capturing the multicultural flavor and complicated politics of the Texas border region. By the time the book reaches the halfway point, it’s clear that Charlie and his fellow Texans won’t just have to deal with occupying forces. They’re also up against forces sent from Washington who have been asked to do the unthinkable. The result is a novel readers won’t be able to put down.