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The Devil's Odds: A Mystery by Milton T. Burton
Cover Artist: David Baldeosingh Rotstein
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312643355
Date: 28 February 2012 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Blog / Show Official Info /

In 1942 South Texas, Virgil Tucker is a detective for the Texas Cattle Raisers Association. Having grown up on his Aunt Tia Carmen's beef ranch in Matador County, he was taught how to fight by the Mexican ranch hands, the vaqueros. Virgil is forced to protect Madeline Kimbell who witnessed the strangulation death of a high profile lawyer, Henry DeMour. A bloody path of destruction is cut across South Texas as gambling casino mobsters and their henchmen relentlessly pursue Virgil.

Sadly enough, The Devil's Odds is Milton T. Burton's last novel. He died on December 1, 2011. However, he ended his writing career with a historical Texas noir that is quite intriguing and bloody. The Devil's Odds is a tightly plotted, fast paced novel that is chock-full of gangsters. At times, the number of characters, both good and bad, can seem overwhelming. This is a result of Burton's attempt to give the reader a taste of Texas life during World War II--life as it was for the ranchers, the Mexican descendants, the politicians and the mobsters.

The story is told in the first person from the point of view (POV) of the hero, Virgil Tucker. Virgil seems like an odd name for an Aztec descendant who can sometimes be extremely brutal when dealing with thugs such as Madeline's creepy ex-fiancÚ, Nolan Dunning. (Virgil enjoys binding his victims with whatever he can find and then breaking their pinkies.) On the other hand, Virgil can be gentle, especially when dealing with the females who often throw themselves at our handsome hero. Virgil is a good-hearted family man who wishes to quit the Texas Cattle Raisers Association and settle down to help Aunt Carmen run her ranch, La Rosa.

Of major interest are the stories of hardships and triumphs that are told by supporting characters such as Tia Carmen; Tia's most obedient vaquero servant, the elderly Alonzo De Alejandro; Press Rafferty, a gambler, moonshiner and poacher who hides Madeline at his secluded home; and Frank and Nan Riddle who aid Virgil when his foot is mangled while fleeing from criminals. I noticed while reading this novel that quite a few female characters were victims of rape or attempted rape. For example, Charlie Grist, one of Virgil's excessively violent friends, had a wife who was raped and murdered (his daughter was also murdered); Alonzo's wife Helena was raped by a police official when they lived in Mexico.

If you are a fan of mysteries, especially noir, The Devil's Odds is in your favor. It is a sure bet that you will enjoy it. I will wager my entire collection of mystery novels. Last year, I read Milton T. Burton's excellent Nights of the Red Moon--another Texas noir set in the small, corrupted town of Sequoya. He increased the death toll in The Devil's Odds. Looking forward to Burton's next novel, I was very disappointed to read about his passing.

Fortunately, there is a new author, Tricia Fields, whose exciting debut novel, The Territory, was published a few days before Milton's death. It is another violent, bloody Texas noir; this one is based on an actual problem that has been making newspaper headlines. Police Chief Josie Gray must defend her small town of Artemis in the drug wars that are raging nonstop along the Mexican border.

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