A story of Mexico centered around the coast of Nayarit
Something for Nothing
By Robert Richter
Publisher: Dark Oak Mystery Series, 2015
Paper: $14.95 US
Kindle: $2.99 US
Robert Richter’s new novel, Something for Nothing, is his third featuring Cotton Walters, ‘not your ordinary roving gringo’, who is called Algo by his Mexican buddies, shortened from the Spanish word for Cotton, algodón.
Although Cotton prefers ‘a little cantina small talk over a cold Dos Equis,’ once again serious circumstances, farther up the Pacific Coast, are sucking him in. His old buddy, self-taught archaeologist and relic hunter Gabby MacLean, has asked Cotton to leave his ‘unofficial Vallarta office,’ which is ‘the far back booth of Juan Carlos’ Iguana Bar,’ to come find him “in the river delta swamps of northern Nayarit to help deal with Cortès’ Treasure—the real thing….’
He and Gabriel MacLean had hit it off when they had first met ‘that long ago night on a Mexican beach’. Gabe had mused, “‘Cotton Walters, the kind of name that strikes one. About a year or so ago, it seems like someone of that name was involved in some rather violent intrigue against the U.S. government….’” “‘Probably some other Cotton Waters,’ I said.” Gabe reassures Cotton, “‘A decent moral stance must at times be couched in socially unacceptable behavior to be effective.’”
Cotton, ‘Algo,’ is determined to find this fascinating old man and Something for Nothing chronicles his search, about a week long, although he often feels like an ‘utter idiot,’ an ‘impulsive fool,’ and early on reflects on his situation:
‘There’s something conducive to self-revelation, standing naked in a back-country Mexican midnight village street, thinking that you have one chance, one place to go for any acceptance or safety, and that place is a pulque den and billiard bar in the shabbiest stuccoed corner of a podunk island town in a flooding Mexican river….’
In Lo de Marcos, Cotton seeks the help of Cuate who along with his wife ‘had been taking care of me since my greenhorn days and also had known Gabby MacClean well’. (Curiously, Cuate has six toes on each foot). “Wouldn’t you like to vacation a few days in San Blas,” Cotton asks.
In ‘San Blas, the seamiest, seediest port town on Mexico’s west coast,’ Cotton gets a room at the Buccanero, which he shared with ‘two geckos and a Jurassic cockroach.’ The ‘screen in the lower left corner of the window was pulled out so a thief would have to be armless not to be able to reach inside my room and unlock the door from the inside.’
Clearly Robert Richter is a master of raw and fresh description, frequently done with sardonic humor; but he is also capable of lyrical passages that capture evanescent beauty: as Cotton headed north that first evening, ‘the Nayarit Pacific was molten gold…the surf a pearl necklace against the pulsing breast of the coast.’
In San Blas he encounters, in addition to narco-trafficantes, ‘A small coven of foreign travelers,’ among them a ‘a Scottish woman of indiscernible age’ with ‘smoking Bulldog jowls,’ ‘a Chilango in gold chains and tattoos and leather,’ ‘France’s finest possession” the beautiful Jesseem, ‘fat Suzannah,’ and Cotton himself pulls a young and inexperienced tourist—his ‘first time anywhere’–off the street and into the action: ‘Marvin in Panama hat and squeaky new sandals, a fox on the pocket of his yellow polo shirt, a calculator tucked behind it.’ Marvin Mason, naïve but of a noble spirit, is a character we come to root for.
Two characters we do not root for are upper class urbanites, the ‘beautiful Mexican couple who ‘despised Americans and would never deal with one except to take his money” and who felt that because they were born into the Mexican elite, that gave them ‘the inherent right to buy, steal and sell their country’s cultural and historical treasure from…the people of the land.’ Cotton tells the woman with the ‘fine green eyes’ that “You’re no more mestiza than the pope, let alone Indian….You’re more gringa than a Barbie doll, honey.”
Throughout Something for Nothing, Richter reveals his disdain for the upper classes and his sympathy for their victims.
He also shares some charming truths about the ordinary Mexican: ‘Lots of Mexicans want to feel they’ve been a positive help to lost or stranded gringos asking directions or looking for someone. They’ll often tell you what you want to ear, even if they haven’t a clue.” And ‘any moment now’ in Mexico means anything from a nanosecond to a century.’
Some of the truths are universal. Julio in his little jungle village was in love with a woman neighbor named Fidela, but Fidela was in love with a gringo in Vallarta. After a short infatuation the gringo lost all interest in her. So she married Julio, but she hated him ‘ever after for being less than she had wanted’.
Much of Robert Richter’s work is inspired by his 40-year love affair with Mexico. He has written three Cotton Waters mysteries (all available on Kindle): Something in Vallarta (1991), Something Like a Dream (2014), this latest, Something for Nothing (2015), all set on Mexico’s western Riviera. Richter has also written two non-fiction books about Mexico: Search for the Camino Real: A History of San Blas and the Road to Get There (2011) and Cuautémoc Cárdenas and the Roots of Mexico’s New Democracy (2000).
Well, it must be obvious by now I’ve gotten hooked on Robert Richter’s character Cotton ‘Algo’ Waters and his adventures in western Mexico.
Forgive me for not being able to resist this final remark: Something for Nothing costs almost nothing (particularly in the Kindle version) but gives you a lot of something, in the form of a fine story.