Author: Stephen Randel
Length: 233 pages
Date of Publication: August 19th, 2012
Why I read it: Review Request
Where I got it: Publisher
Quick thoughts: Zany fun that sheds a bit of serious light onto real world problems.
From the Publisher: He is called El Barquero. He makes his trade along the border, smuggling guns and killing without remorse. As he faces his one last mission, his perfect plan is unwittingly foiled by Avery, a paranoid loner obsessed with global conspiracy theories who spends most of his time crafting absurd and threatening letters to anyone who offends him. That means pretty much everyone.
What unfolds is a laugh out loud dark comedy of madcap adventure stretching from Austin to the West Texas border featuring a lunatic band of civilian border militia, a group of bingo-crazed elderly ladies (one packing a pistol nearly as long as her arm), a murderous and double-crossing cartel boss, a burned-out hippy, and a crotchety retired doctor and his pugnacious French bulldog. Read it to believe it.
One of the best ways to tackle a serious issue is with humour, and that’s exactly what Stephen Randel has done with this novel. It’s not that he’s poking fun of the issues themselves. Drug cartels and border security are very real concerns with grave ramifications, and they’re treated as such in the novel. But when a bumbling set of hilariously inept characters manages to cross paths with a rogue smuggler, it permits us to look at everything with a sidelong ironical glance.
The lynchpin of the novel is the character of Avery Bartholomew Pendleton, a socially incompetent freeloader with more than his share of eccentricities. He spends most of his time in Mountain Dew-fuelled sprees of writing missives to large corporations and obsessively monitoring his chat feeds for any factual evidence of the elusive Chupacabra. Whenever his endeavours require a trip to the outside world, he moves like a stealth ninja armed only with his bright yellow track suit and his Diners Club card. Needless to say, he’s the perfect explanation for how an average American household could manage to get tangled up in cartel affairs.
Avery is the sort of character who can really only be handled in small bursts to remain appreciated. Thankfully we are provided with a wide-ranging cast of characters to provide relief, although when the dog was given a brief POV scene I did have to wonder if maybe there were altogether too many characters being stuffed into the narrative. And speaking of stuffing things in, the same goes for the social issues that appear in the crosshairs throughout the book. The breadth of hot topics that Randel takes on is rather staggering: drug cartels, vigilante border patrols, conspiracy theorists, financial systems, gun laws and even hyper-fundamentalist religion. Sometimes it all feels like a bit much—and it probably is—but the fact that nothing is forced or preachy somehow makes it work.
In all, this was a solid bit of entertainment that pulls all the threads together to create a hilarious climax. If you have a soft spot for quirky characters and farcical humour, you’ll definitely want to take a closer look at The Chupacabra.