From: James R. Winter ( winter_writes@earthlink.net)
Date: 31 Jul 2005

The third Saxon novel finds the actor-cum-PI going to Tijuana to retrieve the missing daughter of a coked-up Hollywood director with more money than he knows what to do with. Merissa Evering runs off to Mexico with a sleazewad immigration lawyer named Martin Swanner. Swanner leaves a trail of pissed-off people everywhere he goes, especially in Tijauna, where Saxon finds him dead. He also finds himself a guest of the local constabulary, who have decidedly un-American views on Miranda and police brutality. Never the less, Saxon gets out and finds himself tangling with a local gang lord and a petulant young bullfighter. His fruitless search for Merissa leads him to an affair with the irresistable Carmen and into a web of illegal immigrant smuggling and the worst Tijuana has to offer. Between this and Kent Harrington's DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, I have pretty much crossed TJ off my list of places to visit.

This has got to be the most cynical Les Roberts novel I've read to date. In the opening chapters, he constantly slams and zings the Hollywood system and culture. With a copyright date of 1989, it's pretty clear this was during his transition from Los Angeles to Cleveland, where he became better known for the Milan Jacovich series. And I'm pretty sure Milan would have held his own much better in TJ than Saxon. But then Jacovich is a Vietnam vet, an ex-cop, and a long time PI. Saxon is an actor using the PI gig to support his acting habit. Naturally, he's going to be a little less durable - and Roberts certainly beats the snot out of him in this one - and a lot more vain than his Slovenian rust belt counterpart. He frets about his waistline and his looks as he's beaten, shot at, and starved.

The story offers a solid plot, with the Carmen subplot sounding a little off until the very end, when Roberts ties up her role rather nicely. His picture of Tijuana as hell on Earth is what drives this story, the sheer stink of desperation of the place, crushing poverty and squalid conditions. I asked someone who'd been there this weekend if it was really that bad. She read Harrington's book and said, "Yes. It's that bad."

Along with DIA, which was written some 12 years later (? Someone know when that was originally released?), CARROT also conjured up images from THE SUN ALSO RISES. Instead of Spain, though, the bullfights take place in TJ, and the difference between clean, rich Madrid and depressed Tijuana are striking. Sometimes, during the bullfight sections, Roberts even lapses into Hemingway's style, though not with glaringly obvious riffs on the minimalist gems like "He went to the river. The river was there." More like the run-on descriptions that pepper SUN. If you read SUN, it really conjures up the idea of someone from that book slumming it in Baja.

The is the best of the three Saxon books I've read so far, and the darkest book by Roberts I've read to date. (Mind you, there are some later Jacovich's I haven't gotten to.)

Jim Winter

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