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Mr. Hooligan by Ian Vasquez
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312378110
Date: 07 December 2010 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

When he was seventeen, Riley James fatally shot two men and became known as Li‘l Hooligan. In exchange for keeping him out of prison, the drug-smuggling Monsanto family enslaved him in a life of crime. Years later, he is part owner of Lindy's bar in the beautiful Central American country of Belize. He has fallen in love with an American neighbor, Candice. Now he wants to do one last drug run for the Monsantos, pay off his debts and leave Belize City with Candice. Unfortunately, a bloodbath ensues as traitors are determined to keep him forever trapped in a life of crime.

Ian Vasquez has written a most excellent Caribbean noir that is positively engrossing. Put aside the violence and what you have in Mr. Hooligan is a complex character study of a man who is trapped in a life of crime. The mystery here is whether or not he will be able to flee and begin a normal life. Is Riley James a victim of his environment or has he simply made bad choices throughout his life? His mom was an alcoholic and his father was a hustler of stolen artifacts. However, even though he has a legitimate business, Lindy's, he can't resist the temptation of having an illegal gambling parlor.

Honestly, if I met someone like Riley James I would think they were slimy scum. However, as I read the novel, I grew to admire him. Why? He genuinely cares about his ex-wife Vicky's husband Miguel because he wants his son Duncan to have a happy family with Miguel and Vicky. Riley is good friends with a nun, Sister Patricia Pierce, who looks upon him as a son. He risks his life to save his friends, Harvey and Gertrude Longsworth, who are also co-owners of Lindy's. He is deeply and madly in love with Candice. He is good friends with an employee, Turo, who is intellectually challenged and provides comic relief by mispronouncing words; for example, when guests on his tour boat became inebriated, he said they became “illubriated.”

The Monsantos are a cruel, vicious lot. The elderly, cantankerous Israel is the leader even though he has bowel movement problems and is always having to lean on his cane while hobbling to the bathroom. His younger brother Carlo is a nasty man; he has greasy black hair that he keeps slicked back and is known as “The Serpent". He lusts after his divorced sister Mirta. Unfortunately, the Monsantos are the only family Riley has ever known. Brisbane Burns, a firearms expert and former employee of the Monsantos, is also a close friend of Riley's. His sexuality was never clear to me; he is surrounded by a criminal ring of attractive "pretty boys" and his best friend (or lover) has AIDS. Corrupt politicians and police officers round out the novel's colorful cast.

Speaking of colorful, Belize is a gorgeous country and provides a wonderful backdrop for this tale of intrigue. A Central American country, it is located on the Caribbean sea and is snuggled between Mexico and Guatemala. Most of its citizens speak English and/or Spanish. The official language is English. There are many islands, known as cayes, tropical rainforests, jaguars, underwater caves, barrier reefs and Mayan ruins. (I would love to vacation in this Caribbean paradise.) Riley is an expert at navigating the channels around the cayes and on the rivers in the rainforests. This is why the Monsantos use him to deliver drugs to remote areas where the Coast Guard isn’t watching.

If you like exotic locales, non-stop action, bloody violence and sensuous romance, then Ian Vasquez's novel of Caribbean noir, Mr. Hooligan, is a must read. The sweltering heat of Belize offered a nice respite from the cold weather that has made me suffer this winter. I found myself hoping and praying that Riley James would be able to flee from Belize and leave behind his life of crime. Seldom have I ever become so emotionally attached to a fictional character. I literally held my breath during the novel's last ten pages. After reading Mr. Hooligan, I’d like to read Vasquez's previous novels: In the Heat, his Shamus Award-winning debut, and Lonesome Point. Raised in Belize, Vasquez now works as a copy editor for the St. Petersburg Times and lives near Tampa Bay, Florida.

Other novels of violent crime noir that have been recently published and I highly recommend are: Milton T. Burton's Nights of the Red Moon, Bruce DeSilva's Rogue Island and Daniel Judson's Voyeur.

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