It’s 1962 on the Texas Gulf Coast, and 15-year-old Charlie Sweetwater and his brother, Johnny, are happily oblivious to the world’s problems. Charlie’s main concerns are qualifying for an upcoming Golden Gloves boxing tournament, ducking a local bully and, with any luck, stealing a kiss from Carmen Delfín, the prettiest girl he’s ever laid eyes on.
Charlie’s last innocent summer ends abruptly when his boxing coach is murdered and his friend, a black Cuban boxer named Jesse Martel, is accused of the crime.
Their problems are compounded when Jesse becomes a political pawn in a high-stakes contest between Cuba and the CIA—a contest that intensifies when the Cuban Missile Crises begins, and the world’s two superpowers come within an eye blink of mutual destruction.
Through it all, Charlie and his brother are convinced that Jesse is innocent, and they are determined to find the real murderer—a remorseless killer who is stalking more victims—and clear Jesse’s name before time runs out. Suddenly the Sweetwater boys find themselves navigating through a world that is much bigger, more complicated, and scarier than they ever imagined.
I liked this story -- the character development and world building are excellent. Readers really get a snapshot of life on the Texas coast in the early 60s, including all the tensions of the times. The book can be called a mystery, but it's a stretch to categorize it as a thriller or suspense story. It is mostly filled with the day-to-day activities of the two brothers, Johnny and Charlie, with some low-key action and foreshadowing thrown in here and there to keep things interesting. Readers know by the cover blurb who is going to be murdered, and yet it is over one hundred pages into the book (which is only 270 pages) before the murder happens. In the next hundred pages, there are a few more spikes and some intrigue added it, but it isn't until the two hundred page mark that the action really peaks. It never feels like there's a real urgency to solve the murder, and the boys do their (admittedly) Hardy Boys-esque investigations when they don't have too much else going on. But the slow progression works. Everything really comes to a head near the very end of the book, then it wraps up quickly and readers are provided an epilogue to answer any nagging questions -- hooray!
The writing is well done with the voices of the characters very natural for the era and the speakers. There are consistent bonus commas added in, almost as if they are supposed to signal how the sentences should be spoken rather than being grammatically correct. It's unlikely that the comma errors will affect anyone's enjoyment of the book, but an edit wouldn't hurt.
The intended audience is adult, but with the main characters primarily teens, a full coming-of-age side story, and plenty of teenager antics, this book would likely appeal to young adult readers. There is plenty of swearing (including the F-bomb), sex (not detailed), underage drinking, and violence (not graphic), so probably best suited for high schoolers and older.
The author of four funny, fast-paced novels of intrigue set on the Texas Gulf Coast, Miles Arceneaux is a one-of-a-kind writer. Or, to be precise, he is three-of-a-kind. The irreverent persona of “Miles” is the product of three friends, lifelong Texans, and Gulf Coast aficionados.
Praise for Miles Arceneaux:
“Miles Arceneaux named among the top five Texas authors of 2014.”
Mystery People, Top Five Texas Authors of 2014, December 23, 2014
Praise for Ransom Island:
“A seamless, atmospheric and sardonic comic thriller.”
The Dallas Morning News, Book review: Four mysteries with Texas ties, December 26, 2014
Praise for La Salle’s Ghost:
“Arceneaux keeps the story moving and the suspense building, working in plenty of
humor along the way.”
Glenn Dromgoole, Texas Reads, September 7, 2013
Praise for Thin Slice of Life:
“An engaging crime caper. This book hits the mark.”
— Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2012
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