A 'Return' To A Mexico More Dangerous Than Before

Alan Cheuse reviews a crime novel set in Mexico, The Return by Michael Gruber.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Michael Gruber is a former civil servant, chef, environmentalist, roadie and speechwriter. Now, he writes novels. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says his latest book, "The Return," shows off the breadth of Gruber's life experience.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Rick Marder, the main character, a New York book editor with a deep portfolio, receives a death sentence of a diagnosis from his doctor on the very first page of this engaging new thriller. Marder immediately cashes out his wealth and heads to Mexico, where his late Mexican-born wife's family once held sway in a region now scarred by narcotraficantes from several warring cartels.

Marder is a man on a mission, seeking revenge for the murder of his in-laws and wanting to establish order in his wife's memory. It helps that one of his Army pals, an unreconstructed vet named Skelly, has hitched a ride with him south of the border. Skelly's a drinker, a brawler, a skilled soldier with mercenary tendencies, and a dark and raveled personality whose mysteries contain mysteries.

Together, they turn a frightened community into a unified commune. Once Marder actually goes up against the drug lords, even with Skelly at his side, the battle seems pretty much hopeless. When Marder's scientist-daughter Carmel tracks him down to her grandparents' old town, the tide begins to turn.

Carmel's quite a woman, having given over her post-doc work at MIT to search for her father and, among other dangerous situations, finding herself caught up in a flirtation with the commander of the local army division, and later, kidnapped by one of the most evil men in all the drug families and dueling with him in a yacht off the coast while armed only with a writing instrument.

Michael Gruber does pretty much the same thing, tackling murderous material with agility and applying the tactical skills of a master of the genre, armed only with a writing instrument.

SIEGEL: That's Alan Cheuse with his review of "The Return" by Michael Gruber.

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