Adrian McKinty has an awful lot to answer for. Sitting down to read FIFTY GRAND, I thought this would be another good book from an author whose books I've increasing come to like. What I didn't expect was a nearly straight reading sitting, leaving the entire household making do with scratch meals, and the dogs threatening to pack their bags and leave home if meals and playtime didn't get back to normal pretty darn quick.
FIFTY GRAND features a new character from McKinty, Cuban cop Mercado. There are some vague similarities to earlier books in plot location though - set in the USA, via Mexico as Mercado pulls a bit of a swifty on Cuban authorities to get to America. Courtesy of a trip to check out a University Course in Mexico, Mercado skips that country, illegally entering America all in the hopes of finding out the truth behind the death of Mercado Senior. The settling of scores over the death of a father who skipped Castro's Cuba and lived the rest of his life in the US, never contacting either of his children might seem a little odd on the face of it, but Mercado Junior is no normal cop; definitely a child that a Dad like Mercado Senior could have been very very proud of.
Opening up with one of the most chilling scenes, FIFTY GRAND is all about a very short period of time. Mercado has a limited visa for time to be spent in Mexico, so has to get into the US, find the person who left their father for dead on the side of a road, deliver due retribution and get back into Mexico, in order to return home on time and avoid regime wrath on the family still in Cuba.
Because of this limited timeframe everything, quite rightly, in this story is done at supersonic speed. The action rarely lets up, yet at no stage does it seem odd that Mercado would be on this pilgrimage, nor would events not unfold as they do. The pace is frantic, but the characterisations don't suffer as a result. There's tremendous humour, and quite biting sarcasm - the cameo's of Hollywood stars and their excesses are hilarious - but all of that is balanced against the difficult life of the illegal immigrants in American society and the strange way that whole economies are built around their labour, the abuse and the resulting power games that seem to inevitably rear their heads when money and people and control are out of wack. There's the politics of fear and separation as well, but in the middle of all of that action, violence, control and sheer excess, somehow McKinty injects sympathy, compassion, sadness, a compelling pathos around Mercado that just makes you want to cheer for the success of the pilgrimage. Somewhere in the middle of it all you really really really care what happened to this fractured little family.
FIFTY GRAND is undoubtedly a suspense novel, and it's rapidfire style has the distinct possibility of making you feel a little battered and bruised by the end of the book, but as strange as it sounds, there's a real sensitivity in the message that's being told here. The writing, the language, the styling is a sheer joy to read - brutal and lyrical often at the same time, and there really is a great central character in Mercado. Reading FIFTY GRAND in a single sitting might have upset the household arrangements just a little, but it was so very very worth every sad sigh, every cheese on dry biscuits meal and all the reproachful looks they can throw at you.