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August 26, 2012 / John Sheridan

Review: Triple Crossing by Sebastian Rotella

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Links: Amazon, Amazon UK

This is a superb novel reminiscent of Don Winslow’s “The Power of the Dog” in that it covers some of the same territory both in terms of subject matter with drug cartels forming an important component and also the physical location in Mexico and southern California though it does cover a much shorter time period. With the author’s background as an investigative reporter covering amongst other things the Mexican border this novel is steeped in authenticity that adds an extra dimension to the reading experience. Wonderfully descriptive of the border area around San Diego and Tijuana. It reminded me of the one night I spent in Tijuana and I couldn’t wait to get back across the border.

The principal characters are Valentine Pescatore, an impetuous US border agent, Isabel Puente, a federal agent, and the head of a Mexican anti-corruption police task force, Licenciado Mendez and his trusted commandants nicknamed Athos and Porthos referencing Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers”. Licenciado Mendez explains the origination of his Diogenes group of policemen thusly “We are hunting for honest policemen. We hope to help them, encourage them. And while we do that, since honest ones are hard to find, we will arrest as many dishonest ones as we can.”

Pescatore is a fascinating character having arrived with the border patrol under a cloud from Chicago we are quickly introduced to both his humanity in giving a few dollars to deserving immigrants that he captures as well as his, at times, volatile and violent nature as he pursues a smuggler back across the border and into Tijuana. This incident lays the foundation for the remainder of the novel as it establishes his previously suspect credentials with his supervisor, Arleigh Garrison who is at the centre of much of the illicit smuggling and corruption along their border section. “Chased that pollero halfway across TJ into his house, kicked his ass, and made it back again.”

His incursion is investigated by Isabel Puente and although they suspect much, his incursion cannot be proven but the investigating team are particularly interested in his supervisor Garrison and recruit Pescatore as a source just as his new found credibility with those more interested in bending and breaking the law than enforcing the border begin to draw him into their operations. He quickly becomes acquainted with their business associates on the Mexican side of the border and the level of cooperation and protection they receive from the various police forces. “If you’re worried about the judiciales, don’t be,” Garrison said. “They got the perimeter for us.”

Fittingly for a border patrol agent, Pescatore has a borderline personality and as he becomes more deeply entwined with La Patrulla de la Muerte (The Death Patrol) you can never be quite sure where his loyalties lie just as he isn’t fully trusted by either the law enforcement agencies or the criminal gang. Along the way you will learn a lot about the Triple Border area where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina intersect which is a den of forgery, smuggling, money laundering, corruption etc and hence the title of “Triple Crossing” which could apply equally to the physical border crossings or the various interested parties being US/Mexican law enforcement, The Death Patrol and poor Valentine Pescatore caught in the middle.

Check out the Mulholland Books website for an excerpt. My rating is 10 out of 10.

Synopsis:
A gritty, fast-paced thriller about the criminal underworld at work along both sides of the U.S.- Mexico border and a young cop who goes undercover to bring it down. Valentine Pescatore, a volatile rookie Border Patrol agent, is trying to survive the trenches of The Line in San Diego. He gets in trouble and finds himself recruited as an informant by Isabel Puente, a beautiful U.S. agent investigating a powerful Mexican crime family. As he infiltrates the mafia, Pescatore falls in love with Puente. But he clashes with her ally Leo Mendez, chief of a Tijuana anti-corruption unit. Politically charged violence escalates, plunging Pescatore into the lawless “triple border” region of South America and a showdown full of bloodshed and betrayal. Writing with rapid-fire intensity, Sebastian Rotella captures the despair and intrigue of the borderlands, where enforcing the law has become an act of subversion. TRIPLE CROSSING is an explosive and riveting debut.

“Celebrity” author endorsements:
“This is one of the most accomplished first novels I have ever read. Triple Crossing is full of dangers, deep characters and a story writ on a grand scale. It gives you all of that and much more. Sebastian Rotella takes you into a world you don’t know and it’s as real as any world you do. This is an important piece of work from an author whose voice should be heard.” — Michael Connelly

“There have been many south-of-the-border/drug war novels, but Triple Crossing is the best one I’ve come across by a mile. Rotella, a noted investigative journalist, has a professionally-honed eye for detail that is evident on every page. This alone is impressive, but he also possesses a talent for character and narrative drive that elevates this story to the level of epic greatness.” — George Pelecanos

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