Welcome back to the Book Club! We’re keeping it gritty this week as we go south of the border for some intense drama. This is an audio review so it’s going to be a test to see how the intensity of the material translates from page to the ear. This selection also raises a question about the use of supernatural elements within a gritty criminal setting. No need for a passport here, we’re working outside the confines of the law, and possibly God as well. It’s one more for the audio Book Club y’all!
Narco Saints by Chris Vander Kaay and Wayne Clingman, with narration by John Campagna tells a gritty story of drugs, cartels, murder, and even further unspeakable crimes. The primary character is Manolo Vargas, a Mexican citizen that gets caught up in quite the mess. Through a brief series of fantastically tragic events, Manolo is recruited to work for the DEA to help infiltrate a notorious drug cartel that does most of it’s business in America. With roads leading to Vegas and Houston, Manolo experiences the worst of humanity first-hand. When all seems lost, and death seems all but certain, strands of the supernatural make themselves apparent, forcing Manolo to confront more than any man could reasonably handle. Can Manolo team up with an unlikely (re: a fucking frightening) companion to destroy this cartel from the inside? And if not for himself, perhaps for the child that is now dependent upon his help.
The audio for Narco Saints is clear and crisp, and the voice work of John Campagna is a great choice to give a voice to the gritty criminal underworld in which most of the characters are derived. He takes great pains to diversify the types of voices, including a wide swath of Mexican and American characters. While perhaps his female voices may need some work, the main characters are done well and the tension that builds during the dramatic moments are done with excellence. The drama, mind you, goes well beyond the pale of drugs’n’murder that would be promised with a setup like this. While never explored to the levels of exploitation, the elements of child abuse…and the levels to which the disgraceful acts are said to be taking place, it’s simply goosebump raising during key moments. Counter to that, the “punishments” that are doled out by our antiheroes once the bad guys get their comeuppance is equally as spine tingling. While only being along for the ride, the reader can feel the satisfaction as well as the guilt, and must confront the question of ends justifying means by the time the novel reaches its conclusion.
Verdict: Narco Saints by Chris Vander Kaay and Wayne Clingman is an exciting story of the criminal underworld mixed with supernatural elements in a gritty, and often disgusting backdrop. The audio work compliments the source material properly, and perhaps magnifies the intensity. Manolo is an identifiable character: someone caught up in a crazy situation, and forced to confront the most unreasonable of circumstances in the most unreasonable of contexts. This novel will satisfy both crime fiction fans as well as gritty supernatural enthusiasts as the tough story yields a satisfying conclusion for readers of either genre. I hope Manolo Vargas will find some peace after the his life settles down post-novel, and I suppose any novel that draws this emotion from the reader/listener is well worth a shot.
Special thanks to Wayne Clingman for providing an audio copy of Narco Saints to TehBen.com for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Author’s Twitter: @themilwaukeemob and @ckvanderkaay
Narrator’s Twitter: @voicecampy
Purchase Link: Amazon (Audible file)