The Rules of Wolfe

The first rule of writing noir is to make a location your own. James Carlos Blake has done just that in The Rules of Wolfe, his second novel (following 2012's Country of the Bad Wolfes) about the multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-criminal Wolfe family. His turf is the 2,000-mile-long border between Mexico and the U.S., with the Wolfes settled on the Gulf end where Brownsville, Tex., rubs up against Matamoros. When Eddie Gato, the great-grandson of the family's 109-year-old matriarch, Catalina, gets crosswise with the Sinaloa cartel in Sonora, his cousins Frank and Rudy Wolfe jump in a family-owned Beechcraft and fly to El Paso to rescue him.

The brash Eddie is in trouble because he wouldn't follow the oldest family rule: "any Wolfe who wants to work in the family 'shade trade' must first get a baccalaureate degree." When the ruling Three Uncles reject his argument that "a college degree was unnecessary to be a competent smuggler," he takes his ambitions to San Luis Potosi, where the Mexican side of the family runs the weapons distribution end of the business and becomes a guard at the mountain ranch of cartel boss La Navaja (the knife). But Eddie and the girl of the boss's second-in-command seduce each other; when El Segundo discovers them, Eddie kills him. He and Miranda steal the boss's Escalade and take off for the border with every cartel assassin after them.

Blake's "border noir" then turns into a long, volatile bilingual chase scene full of killing, car crashes, drugs, double-crosses and desert storms. Blake doesn't just know the territory, the language and the players--he also knows how to tell a great story. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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