Friday, 30 September 2016

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

review by Maryom

In the shanty town of Anapra, Arturo scrapes together a living from work at the local garage and making a few extra pesos at cards. It's a hard, hand-to-mouth life but, for that place, on the Mexican side of the border with the USA, it's not that bad. Then Faustino, an old school friend, comes visiting, asking for a favour. He's not only got himself involved with one of the powerful drug gangs in the area but has 'borrowed' from the money he was supposed to be keeping safe for them. His intentions were good - to buy his girlfriend and baby a safe passage to America, then repay the money somehow - but now the money's wanted, and he hasn't got it to hand. Faustino is hoping that through Arturo's skill at cards the missing dollars can quickly and easily be made up before the narcos notice anything amiss; the alternative, A neither quick nor easy death, doesn't bear thinking about. First though Faustino insists they visit the shrine of Saint Death, to leave an offering and ask for her aid, but she isn't a kindly saint, rather a neutral, aloof one, who welcomes both good folk and evil equally.

Somehow, to my mind at least, Marcus Sedgwick's stories are associated with Eastern Europe, cold climates and, frequently, vampires, but this one is set on the Mexican/US border, a dry, dusty place even as the temperature cools down for winter, and the only 'blood-suckers' around are the Mexican drug-dealing narcos and the US corporations, squeezing the life out of the people one way or another. 

The novel follows Arturo as he attempts to turn a few dollars into the huge amount that Faustino needs to repay - and it isn't as simple as the two old friends had hoped, and it has twists and turns that even I wasn't expecting! - but there's more to this book than just a gripping story-line; it's an eye-opener regarding the conditions in which thousands of people live alongside the border. Looking for a new start in the USA, people travel north from Mexico itself or from further away in South America, hoping to escape the drug gangs, government injustice and poverty they've known all their lives. And, for many, the journey ends here, at the border. Unlikely to get through by legitimate means, they turn to people smugglers who are as likely to take their money and run, as to help them to safety on the other side, or end up living in the makeshift shanties, working for a pittance at factories owned by US corporations, but situated in Mexico, and not really bound by the laws of either. The only way to live a comfortably well-off life - able to afford food, a proper house, maybe a car - is to join one of the gangs of drug-dealers that operate almost freely in the area. It's an eye-opener about the conditions and deprivations suffered in this area of the world! 

Saint Death is maybe intended to be a teen/YA read but, like such a lot of books aimed at that readership, I'd recommend it anyone looking for a tense thriller-style read, with less of the graphic blood and gore of an adults' book.  

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Orion Books

Genre - teen/YA thriller

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