I have made a huge discovery. Robert Olen Butler's debut crime novel. He is already a Pulitzer Prize winner and a National Magazine Award winner. He's written many novels, collections of short stories, and nonfiction, but I'm so happy he's turned to crime fiction in this period piece set in Mexico in 1914. The atmosphere, the characters, all told me so much about a historical time and place I knew little about.
His hero is Christopher Marlowe Cobb, a journalist who is in Vera Cruz in 1914 when the Americans have occupied the city but there is a mysterious German ship in the harbor which is said to be full of munitions. Cobb is the son of a famous actress and singer who raised him alone, and he has inherited enough of her acting talent in addition to his natural writing talent that he's an unusually effective journalist for a Chicago newspaper.
In Mexico, as he spends days and nights trying to figure out what the Germans are up to, he hires a local boy to keep watch for him, and his photographer/friend Bunky also helps him. They discover a German man in a suit being rowed to shore in the middle of the night. He goes to the German consulate. Now to find out who he is and what he's here for. Meanwhile, the Americans seem to be oblivious, concentrating on cleaning up the city by collecting garbage in their efforts to make the Mexicans like them - a lost cause.
Cobb meets a musician in a German band who is actually an American spy, and when the man is killed, Cobb finds himself in serious trouble. He sets off to Pancho Villa's camp by train to put a stop to a nefarious plot against the U.S. and Mexico both. There is a love interest as well but it plays a small part in the story as you follow Cobb's adventure.
Since Cobb is a thoughtful person and as a journalist a great observer, you get a beautiful picture of 1914 Mexico and some of the characters, like Pancho Villa, who were important in that time and place. I was especially fond of the boy Cobb hired, a brave little boy trying to earn or steal money to feed his mother and siblings.
Source: Amazon Vine