“A propulsive, compelling, and unsparing novel set in the grimly violent world of the human and drug trade on the US-Mexican border.”
My Thoughts: I fell in love with Marcus Sedgwick‘s writing while reading The Ghosts of Heaven, a novel I found to be brilliantly structured, perfectly executed, and gorgeously written. Having read two other books of his since then, he has become one of the few authors whose work I will request without even looking at the synopsis. His stories to me are stunning in what they accomplish, whether it is a Cold War parable, a turn-of-the-century Parisian murder mystery, or his latest about narcoseconomics. No matter the topic or the era at hand, he captures human struggle and sacrifice so well that you ache to read it, and yet his prose is so beautiful that you cannot stop reading. It is a worthwhile conundrum and should not deter you from reading any novel by Mr. Sedgwick.
Saint Death has the added benefit of being timely in its subject matter. Taking place in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on the border with Texas, it exposes the very real dangers and hardships that come with living in a city ruled by gangs and drug cartels. The constant fear and the unimaginable poverty are grim reminders that just beyond our borders there are people with no hope and no future. Mr. Sedgwick never sugarcoats the truth no matter how poetic his writing, and there are scenes of such brutality that will turn readers’ stomachs. For all of that, his unflinching portrayal of Arturo, as well as the emotional turmoil he faces while trying to help a loved one, remains pure and honest.
The fact is that he is able to transport you to such a place, where you become so immersed in the story that real and fictional life blur, is a testament to Mr. Sedgwick’s ability to build a story. As Arturo fights for his life against a very short deadline, adrenaline races through your system. The dust and sewage fill your nostrils, and the constant backdrop of gunfire assaults your ears. Arturo’s fear tastes metallic and bitter in your mouth, and his impotence to make any sort of difference is yours. Mr. Sedgwick does this without commentary and without politics. He puts you in Arturo’s story and lets you see for yourself.
Saint Death is the type of novel that should be mandatory if we are ever going to become more empathetic to the world outside the U.S. borders. In a real way, it shows how U.S. policies have real and very negative effects on our neighbors to the south, and it shows the desperation that drives people to cross the border in spite of the risks. What I found most interesting is that it also shows the fear that prevents people from ever leaving such dire straits. Arturo’s world may seem the stuff of movies under anyone else’s pen, but under Mr. Sedgwick’s, it is a world that is as real as if you were there. That is the most chilling thing of all.