Cut To The Bone - Robert P Conner
* * * Spoilers * * *
Do you remember the film Death Wish with Charles Bronson? Itís almost a classic now, but in its time it was revolutionary in that it blurred the distinction between what is right and what is wrong. Revenge and murder became justifiable. I found myself thinking of that film when reading this novel.
Santos is born to a Mafia family but is tactfully sidelined when it becomes known heís gay. They set him up with contacts and some money though, and he eventually becomes a hit man for the Mexican drugs cartel. Able to supply sophisticated weapons to order, deadly and respected, his life seems set. Until he meets Tony. Itís love almost at first sight: unexpected, unlooked for and reciprocated. Meeting Tony changes Santosís life and he decides to do one last big job and then retire.†
Just as things come to fruition, Tony is killed in a senseless horrible gay bashing shooting.† Tonyís killers come to wish theyíd never tangled with Santos. And this is where the similarities with Death Wish came to mind. I found myself cheering for Santos even as he delivers horrible (and inventively awful) deaths to the murderers. I didnít even lose sympathy for him or wish him anything but success in his mission to hunt them all down.
My only criticism of this book is that itís too short and too stripped to the bone (hah). I felt it might have been a short story, fleshed out for a novel. I really liked Santos and would definitely buy another book featuring him. This book begs for a sequel and I really hope Conner writes one. Unusual, violent and well worth reading.
Wow.† I read this novel in one day, unable to put it down: gripping, dark and seductively sexy, a real edge of the seat thriller that had me rooting for a charismatic killer.† Then just about every character is morally suspect, with the exception of Detective Jen Lessing, straight-as-a-dye cop newly arrived in El Paso trying to get along with colleagues who are homophobic, misogynistic, racist bigots.† And thatís the ones who arenít corrupt.†
Yes, itís one of those stories where itís damned hard to tell the good guys from the bad, all of them mired in shady dealings of one sort or another.† Set in the war zone thatís the Tex-Mex border, with drugs, illegal immigration and political shenanigans making a murky soup.†
A ruthless Mexican drug cartel, the cops and Drug Enforcement Agency, and a right wing extremist group perpetrating hate crimes including a horrific gay bashing, form a deadly triangle, in a superfast tale of betrayal, vengeance and unlikely partnerships, thatís also a poignant love story, about as far from the Romentics or Andy Barrigerís cosy domesticity as you can get.
Tough guy antihero Santos is an Italian/Mexican, tall and muscular, a man who likes boys with sensuous lips, sinuous limbs and lean asses.† One night in a sleazy bar a beautiful dancer catches his eye.† Soon Santo & Tony are together; more than hot sex, an almost paternal need to protect and comfort a youth whose life has been pretty awful because there was no one to look out for him or show tender affection.†
Santos knows that in his game (drug runner, arms provider and hired assassin) sooner or later luck runs out, and you end up in prison or dead.† He plans one final big job before he and Tony get away, someplace green and cool.† Can he outwit his employers, keep the law off his back and live his dream?† With Lessing sniffing around thatís never going to be easy, but sheís more sympathetic to a gay manís needs than you might think.†
†This is a first novel and itís a doozie: lyrical writing in marked contrast to a violent and brutal story that almost made me sick once or twice.† It isnít a cosy read; bad things happen, not what we want but, sadly, realistic.† Thereís way more violence than sex.† So, not for the squeamish.
The tension is effectively played. †Like one of those Westerns with Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name, Santos rides through the dusty desert, in an SUV rather than on a horse but the atmosphere is the same- and the blood-splattered violence.† Something reminded me, too, of Joseph Hansenís Dave Brandstetter, strong characterisation and descriptive detail, no unnecessary words but rich and evocative...and Santos carries a Sig Sauer too!†
Hansen broke new ground with his gay investigator, now Conner gives us a hunky gay action hero for our times, all sweat and testosterone and big cojones.† Refreshing to see a Stallone-like character who loves men and isnít ashamed, no gay angst, despite coming from a fiercely macho culture that regards those like him as weak and womanly.† You donít want to mess with Santos, believe me.† The hatemongers whose homophobic violence makes walking down the street with Tony as fraught with danger as tangling with the cartel think theyíve got another victim.† Instead they unleash a vengeful angel of death, and the bodycount soars.
Thereís no neat ending- thatíd be unrealistic.† I just hope someone brings the novel to the big screen.† Just think of all the candidates to play Santos, Antonio Banderas or Javier Bardem perhaps!† A vengeful antihero with big muscles and an eye for a beautiful boy (Gael Bernal?), who just maybe finds his redemption.† Itís crying out to be a movie.† Highly recommended.
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