I remember, from back in the day, how much you could tell about an auditioning musician, even before he started playing: the way he touched his instrument, the way he played a chord or a lick after tuning—not to show off but to establish that the tone was right—and I would say to myself, “OK, this guy can play.”
That’s what came to mind as I started reading Gabino Iglesias’ ZERO SAINTS. Not only does he establish his writing chops right away, he also establishes a tone, a direction, and a strangeness that doesn’t let up. And a unique character: a drug-dealing thug whose devotion to the transcendent personalities of Santeria (one of my favorite books happens to combine crime and Santeria: Michael Gruber’s TROPIC OF NIGHT) guides his actions in a revenge-driven narrative about the seedy underworld of Austin.
Iglesias paints around thirty per cent of his canvas in Spanish, which distracted me at first, when I felt compelled to use my phone to translate. I then decided that he delivers sufficient information to carry the story forward in the English passages, and that the Spanish adds character and musicality that enrich the story even in the absence of translation (although it would, I’m sure, be a richer experience if I were bilingual.)
ZERO SAINTS stands on its own as a weird noir classic.