The Rules Of Wolfe is billed as a ‘border noir’ and it may well be just that. Eddie Gato Wolfe is 19. He’s part of a clan of criminals whose legacy stretches back generations and across the Texas-Mexico border. But the family rules say Eddie can’t join the real action in the family business until he’s finished college, and college is not on his agenda. So Eddie disappears, and resurfaces in the middle of the Mexican desert, guarding the weekend getaway of ‘The Boss’, ‘La Navaja’. The work is dull, and once again, there are rules. But Eddie isn’t one for rules.
So when he eyes one of the women who arrives for the weekend soiree, Miranda, who’s La Navaja’s brother Segundo’s squeeze, he ought to know, and we certainly do know, that doing anything about it will lead to trouble. But he does, and she does, and it does lead to trouble and next thing we know Eddie and Miranda are on the run, heading across the desert for the border, with all the resources of La Navaja’s organisation mobilized against them. Eddie needs help, but contacting his brothers Rudy and Frank would not only be humiliating, it might alert La Navaja about where he is.
I reviewed James Carlos Blake’s first novel The Pistoleer, about John Wesley Hardin, twenty years ago. His shifting narrators have a particular resonance which reminded you of how gunfighters moved into myth. I have followed him consistently since, and frequently been hugely impressed; not least with The Killings Of Stanley Ketchel, which has joined my list of best boxing novels ever.
Blake writes about outlaws, and their struggles to survive in America—with this he’s added Mexico to the mix as well, with the country on the other side of Donald Trump’s wall serving as a kind of wild wild west surrogate. On the surface, The Rules Of Wolfe isn’t a complicated novel, basically a classic man on the run story, but the structure is actually quite neatly built—switching between the Wolfe family in Texas and their own problems, and Eddie Gato, and eventually managing to bring the two together.
Wolfe writes cleanly, which keeps the pace moving, and he is a master of that laconic kind of American voice that goes back before Hemingway into the western. It’s a modern sort of western he’s written here, and it’s a rewarding read.
The Rules Of Wolfe by James Carlos Blake
No Exit Press, £8.99, ISBN 9781843444084
Note: This review appeared first at Michael Carlson’s Irresistible Targets
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