A Mexico book by Robert James Waller
Here’s a rather odd novel from the author of “The Bridges of Madison Country” and “Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend”. I’ve always thought of Waller as a writer of romances, going only by the titles of his books, never having read any of them. This one, however, is a quite suspenseful “chase” story – complete with a rather bloody ending – as well as being a travelogue of at least one area of Mexico.
The two leading characters are rather unlikely people to be involved in such a tale. And the one who is the cause of all their problems is the unlikeliest of all. He’s a paid assassin, with many “kills” to his credit. And – oh, yes – his employer is the United States government.
Anyway, the story begins in Puerto Vallarta with our hero, Danny Pastor, a minor novelist, down on his luck and looking for a subject for his next book. He and his Mexican girlfriend, Luz Maria, are in a bar one evening when a shooting takes place outside in the street. By chance, Danny is the only person who actually sees the shooter at work. It’s an assassination and two U.S. government officials are the victims.
Danny and Luz escape the scene immediately. Danny doesn’t want to get involved in all the questioning that he knows will ensue as hordes of policemen descend on the scene. Nor does he want it known that he saw the shooter. He and Luz go to another bar and, lo and behold, the shooter is there. A conversation takes place. Danny is all the time wondering how he can make some literary hay out of what he has witnessed. Anyway, with this in mind, he ends up agreeing to take the shooter up to the border. And so Danny, Luz and the assassin set out in Danny’s beat up old truck on the two or three day journey to the north.
Out of this quite improbable beginning our chase begins. I say chase because U.S. officials quickly arrive on the scene and organize the pursuit. One of them, a CIA official knows the shooter’s identity and knows they have a formidable adversary. His reasons for knowing the shooter’s identity are a part of the very complicated plot. The shooter’s name is Clayton Price. He has done fantastic work with the army where he was a sniper in Vietnam and, later, other assassination assignments for the CIA in various parts of the world. In his younger days he outshot twenty-six hundred other marksmen at the National High Power Rifle Championships, shooting at a pinhead target a thousand yards away. Reading about his “career” was the best part of the story for me.
Mexican police are alerted all across the country as our unlikely threesome drive north. Naturally, there are some incidents along the way. I should also say that this is a story that sent me to the map a couple of times, just to check on exactly where the action was taking place.
We find out a great deal about the assassin en route. We discover the reason for the assassinations and why he is now considered a “rogue” by his former employers in the CIA. We even sympathize with him, even though he is a dangerous person to be around. He’s also a rather complicated s.o.b. While it’s true he has murdered a large number of people he’s not completely unattractive. He rather shyly admits to Luz at one stage that he has never danced with a woman in his life. At times he’s even given to small poetic flights of fancy and we can well understand when Luz falls for him. Dammit! – we even get to like him a little bit.
Anyway, that’s as much of the plot of this rather complex little tale that I’m going to give you.
You’ll have to find out the rest for yourself.
VERDICT: A pretty good page-turner. Waller is quite an elegant writer, even for a story such as this. You won’t learn an awful lot about Mexico but it’s a fun read.
Puerto Vallarta Squeeze
By Robert James Waller
Warner Books, 1995, 210 pages
Available from Amazon Books: Paperback