Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mystery Book Review: Illegal by Paul Levine

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Illegal by Paul Levine. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Illegal by Paul Levine

by
Non-series

Bantam (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-553-80673-4 (0553806734)
ISBN-13: 978-0-553-80673-1 (9780553806731)
Publication Date: March 2009
List Price: $22.00

Review: Illegal, a stand-alone thriller by Paul Levine, is the story of a lawyer at a crossroad in his life, only seeing a future of despair but seizing an opportunity to make a difference in someone else's life and ultimately, just possibly, his own.

J. Atticus "Jimmy" Payne has had a tough year, a year he wouldn't wish on anyone. He lost his 10-year-old son in a hit-and-run automobile accident, and lost his wife through divorce. Not only has he suffered, his wife has suffered and his law practice suffered. Not able to accept his son’s death, believing it was somehow his fault, he has forced out of his life the people and experiences that have meant the most to him. Because of a trial fiasco, he has been found in contempt of the court and sentenced to jail time. With the help of a friend, he manages to escape from jail and heads for his office to get whatever he needs to leave Los Angeles and try to start a new life somewhere else, anywhere else. But he's confronted by a 12-year-old street-wise Mexican boy who has illegally entered the United States and was separated at the border from his single mother, Marisol. The boy, Augustino, begs Jimmy to help him find her. Jimmy, who for over a year had not gone out of his way to help anyone, is told by his ex-wife, police officer Sharon Payne, to either help Nino or she would see to it that he is arrested again. And this time sent to prison for good. Jimmy elects to help Tino.

Jimmy takes Tino back to Mexico so they can try to follow the steps Marisol may have had to take. Jimmy takes on the role of an alien trying to enter the US illegally. He trades his car for another with new plates, gets a visa for himself and a student visa for Tino, and off they are on an adventure filled with brutality, sexual slavery, selling of humans, money exchanges and murder. Jimmy and Nino trail Marisol’s movements from Mexicali to California’s Hellhole Canyon. Now that they knew where she is, will her “owner” give her up? Can she be reunited with her son Tino?

Illegal is more than just a thriller; it paints a bitter picture of Mexicans trying to illegally cross the US border to work, to create a better environment for themselves and the families they leave behind. Levine seems to be using Jimmy as a metaphor here, that the conflicts he faces are analogous in some way to those of the Federal government. Though the author tends to take a balanced approach here, with both pros and cons considered, the problem is overly complex and the metaphor in the end tends to fail. There are no absolutes here. Still, as a suspense novel, the story generally works. Just don't read too much in to it.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of The Betz Review for contributing her review of Illegal and to Authors on the Web for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Haunted by a tragedy in his past and wanted by the cops for his latest malfeasance, trial lawyer Jimmy “Royal” Payne needs to skip town. That’s when he crosses paths with twelve-year-old Tino Perez, newly arrived from Mexico with no money and no papers. The gutsy kid first robs Payne, then pleads for his help. Marisol, the boy’s mother, is missing, after crossing the border with a vicious coyote.

Payne doesn’t go out of his way for anyone. But ex-wife Sharon, the L.A.P.D. detective he still loves, gives him a choice: help the boy or go to jail.

Following a chain of greed, corruption, and betrayal, Payne traces Marisol’s steps from Mexicali to California’s Hellhole Canyon, swept into the dark current of illegal immigration, human trafficking, and sexual slavery. Soon the cynical lawyer and the savvy kid are bonding…and battling cunning predators on both sides of the border. It’s the two of them against an army of cops, coyotes, vigilantes, and sex slavers. Most dangerous of all is Simeon Rutledge, a wealthy grower and the biggest employer of farm workers in California.

Just why is Rutledge willing to bribe Payne -- or kill him -- to keep Marisol under wraps? Will Payne’s quest redeem his mistakes and resurrect his dead marriage—or get him buried in a shallow grave? Either way, he’ll find out there’s no escaping his past.

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