Lulu Publishing Services
Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-1-4834-3896-2, 338 pgs., $16.44
January 6, 2020
The opening line sets the stage: “Highway 755 glistened like a wet snake, the night fog smothering the warm asphalt in a veil of mist.” We sense the foreboding immediately. Terms like “wet snake” and “veil of mist” imply that someone is about to be injured (or worse), and there will be a coverup. This first line is a preview of the author’s clever use of description to set the stage for action.
Mesa, Texas is a mystery wrapped in drug smuggling on the South Texas-Mexico border. It begins with the mysterious murder of a local teenager near La Gloria, Texas, and a Texas Ranger opens his ongoing investigation. The story then jumps to Mesa, Texas, and a quinceañera for the daughter of businessman Luis Gonzales. When a disgruntled customer storms into the party and takes a swing at Luis, Luis’s longtime friend, local middle school teacher Dan Taylor, comes to his rescue – and is rewarded with assault charges. Meanwhile, Luis’s cousin Ramon Leal, the local drug kingpin, must replace his pilot to continue his drug smuggling operation. These seemingly unrelated storylines have one common thread -- Ramon Leal – and throughout the remainder of the novel, the Ranger slowly weaves the threads together.
The author uses description to immerse us at both the macro and micro levels. “Five inches of new snow covered the ground. Shafts of sunlight peeked from the clouds and glistened off the fresh crust, making it sparkle in the early morning light.” The creak of leather gun belts conjures law enforcement. Much is conveyed by the interaction between a character and his cat.
The author includes backstory only when necessary, again conveyed by a seemingly small detail that will turn out to have an importance belying its size, such as the presence (or absence) of a Zippo lighter. Historical details worked into the fiction provide a sense of place and context, as when the author tells us that, “Rangers had been here before, chasing Comanches, protecting the frontier.”
The pacing is top notch, even between disparate characters and scenes in the intertwined stories, so that the same amount of time has elapsed, helping the subplots converge seamlessly. When the timelines come together, they mesh. With several dozen pages remaining, and two storylines in limbo, the climax unexpectedly occurs. This is an unusual structure for a contemporary mystery; however, in the manner of a classic mystery, the author uses this space for related reveals and tying up loose ends, including those two plotlines you thought he’d forgotten.
Throughout the book there are some minor punctuation and grammar errors. While these errors do not take away from the enjoyment of the story, additional editing would be beneficial.
Mesa, Texas is an ingeniously structured mystery that leaves the reader well satisfied.
David Quanstrom is a writer and musician who lives in San Antonio, Texas. Mesa, Texas is his first novel.