My rating: 4 1/2 stars
Hilario Peña’s Tijuana is a place where danger lurks around every corner, corruption is rampant, relationships are complex and often secret, loyalty is a rare commodity, and love conquers all.
Tomás Peralta is older and wiser than the tough kid who was chased out of Sinaloa a few years ago in Peña’s earlier novel Malasuerte en Tijuana. He has established himself as a private detective, and he needs all of his experience, instinct and luck to handle the cases he takes on in Juan Tres Dieciséis.
Juan Tres Dieciséis is a rising boxing superstar who has the good, or perhaps bad, fortune to be named after the bible verse John 3:16. His wife was recently murdered, and he is the prime suspect. It looks like an open-and-shut case for the police, but he hires Tomás to find the real murderer. There are many distractions along the way, though, that take Tomás from the highest to the lowest levels of Tijuana society. There are murderers, conniving women, revolutionaries, corrupt government officials and doctors with questionable ethics. Lorena Guzmán, the eponymous Mujer de los Hermanos Reyna, Peña’s terrific earlier novel, makes a memorable appearance. She has done well for herself, and is still unrelentingly sexy, and profoundly corrupt.
Peña never gives me what I expect, and that’s why I always enjoy his books. What started out to be a routine genre novel detoured into a skillfully written memoir of an up-and-coming young boxer, with some of the most riveting action sequences I’ve ever read. The author clearly loves the sport. From there, the book returns to the detective story, but it’s far from routine. The plot complexities and character development are laid on layer by layer, and build to a truly unexpected climax.
Juan Tres Dieciséis is a gripping noir novel, liberally laced with laugh-out-loud humor and that cynicism tempered with hope and optimism that is so unique to the Mexican sensibility.
I had a great time reading it.