Monday, 27 February 2023

EL NORTE by Harald Johnson #RBRT

 3.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: Fast paced organised crime 'on-the-run' thriller

Never a dull moment in this high-speed thriller starring Jager Flores, an eighteen-year-old who goes on holiday with his family (mother, father, sister) to a Honduran island, never suspecting that this will end in a white-knuckle-ride of a journey north to the US - or that he will be accompanied by Flea, a former gangster who wants to disappear.

Jager knows his father is involved with some dodgy people, but does not know to what extent.  

It's clear that the author has spent much time researching every aspect of with how migrants sneak into the US; the local culture and jargon is convincing, throughout.  I was fascinated to read about 'La Bestia', also known as 'El Tren de la Muerte (The Train of Death), the freight train used for the purpose of getting across Mexico for those who can't afford a smuggler.  

The plot is suspense-filled and unpredictable, as every good action thriller should be - the story is well put together, and definitely plot- rather than character-driven, though Flea and his gang at the beginning were very well drawn, I thought.

Unfortunately, though, this didn't quite hit the spot for me, although I usually love on-the-run stories.  I couldn't 'see' Jager; he never jumped off the page like a character needs to, in order for you to care what happens to him.  He is a schoolboy whose parents have seen fit to send him to a therapist and get him hooked on diazepam (Valium) because his personality is of the introverted type and he suffers from 'social anxiety', which apparently means he needs to be dosed up with strong, highly addictive medication.  However, within a couple of days of shocking, tragic events that give birth to his perilous journey, he throws away his pills and starts facing down gangsters, thinking on his feet in the manner of Jack Bauer, and becoming the de facto leader of small parties of South American undocumented immigrants.  I get that dire circumstances can bring out a side of a person that they didn't know existed, but it usually takes more than a matter of days.  I'm afraid I couldn't suspend my disbelief.

Another detail that grated was this: Jager's gangster father kept a top secret, wildly important document containing certain names, that must not fall into the wrong hands ... on a Google doc.  Surely a hacker of the type that exist these days would be able to hack into such a document within minutes?

To sum up, the story has a lot going for it, especially if you like non-stop action, but it didn't really work for me for the reasons stated.  Which is a shame, because I like this author's historical and time travel fiction very much.

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