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Queen of the South    by Arturo Pérez-Reverte order for
Queen of the South
by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Order:  USA  Can
Plume, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Set in Mexico, Spain, and Morocco, this is a story of a girl, Teresa Mendoza, born in abject poverty, whose life adventures lead her to become the rich head of an unusually successful drug operation. Smuggling drugs is portrayed as exciting as well as dangerous, and we learn how mistakes can be fatal and how an erstwhile friend can quickly become a foe. This is a multinational trade, where Russians, Africans, Latinos and many others have to both compete and cooperate because the authorities are always after them.

This translation of a book written in 2002 describes in detail a world rarely seen. It opens with a view of Teresa's life, but in the next chapter a narrator is writing. This person wants to put together Teresa's life out of a few scraps of available information. All the people who were close to her are dead, and she herself is exceedingly reclusive. So the narrator visits all the places she lived and questions anyone who could have had anything to do with her. In between these visits, Teresa's life is told in intimate detail. Now, if the narrative is being written from the narrator's perspective, that much detail could not be known. Her tale, therefore, may or may not be accurate, but it is certainly gripping.

Some readers are put off by this narrative dichotomy, and I was puzzled by it. Also, Teresa herself and many of the main characters, while fully realized in great detail, remain pretty shadowy because they seem to appear only when they can move the story along. We are never quite sure of their motive for doing what they do. Nevertheless, there is some wonderful writing here: any book whose first sentence reads 'The telephone rang, and she knew she was going to die' is bound to have much to recommend it.

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