Rain Dogs Reviews
“In this gritty, wide-angled, modern noir, sweeping changes in the Mexican drug trade in 1976 imperil the lives and fortunes of two small-scale marijuana growers and a pair of corrupt American border cops.
The unnamed narrator and his partner, both Vietnam veterans, have been making major spending money growing weed in Humboldt County in Northern California and selling it to a friendly connection in Mexico. And the border cops have been doing well taking money to let groups of desperate Mexicans walk into San Diego. But as Colombian drug lords move into the area with their cocaine, partnering with corrupt Mexican officials, the rules of the game are violently rewritten. Ultimately, both the narrator and the corrupt cops come up against Miguel Zamora, a self-proclaimed Mexican drug king who, fueled by coke, has become a brutal, sadistic monster who abuses his wife and thinks he can outsmart the Colombians and his Mexican partners. We’ve seen Zamora’s kind of megalomania plenty of times before, but this book, set against the backdrop of the United States’ intensifying war on drugs, overcomes clichés with its taut, powerfully controlled narrative. The first stand-alone novel by Birtcher, author of the Mike Travis series (Angels Fall, 2008, etc.), pulls no punches with its torture scenes and sudden deaths. The federales and banditos are equally fearsome.
Both a convincing period piece and a timely effort in addressing drug and immigration issues.”
“Washed out from their homes by sudden storms, the rain dogs on the high ground of Mexico don’t know their way home. They prowl and turn their violence where it will. Meanwhile the various protagonists of Baron R. Birtcher’s Rain Dogs have met their own storms in the beginning of America’s drug wars. From Vietnam vet growing pot in Northern California, to crooked cop on the border, to Mexican drug lord giving way to addiction as he samples the Columbian product, all are losing what kept them safe, and violence looms.
Rain Dogs is a thriller with genuine shocks and chills. It’s a violent novel, but convincingly, not gratuitously so, with flawed characters whose missteps and mistakes hide a wealth of conflicting emotions. The author combines first and third person narratives to great effect, creating a convincing narrator whose future remains unpredictable right up to the final pages, and a cast of powerful side-characters with all their well-formed, well-imagined motivations for good or ill. A combination of gritty realism and lyrically descriptive prose draws the reader in, bringing dry plains and misty forests to vivid life, with all the terrors lurking there. The danger’s plausible and palpable. But an anchor of humanity remains, a hint of mystery, and a hope that at least some rain dogs might find shelter before the whole world falls apart.
I don’t know what America, Mexico or Columbia were like in the 70s, but Baron R. Birtcher creates a very believable recent past and peoples it with characters of honor, dishonor, determination and grit, in a novel that keeps the reader enthralled and uncertain from beginning to end.
“Rain Dogs is a taut and exciting read. Overall, you can’t ask for a more effective thriller than this.”
—Thinking About Books
“White-knuckle tension and crisp, clean prose distinguish this outstanding standalone from Birtcher (Angels Fall and two other Mike Travis mysteries). In 1976, Colombian and Mexican criminals are turning cocaine smuggling into a major industry, while the U.S. war on drugs is beginning to produce serious casualties. The nameless narrator is running a small-scale marijuana operation in California’s Humboldt County, until bandits raid his farm and a shiftless kid rats him out. The narrator flees to a small Mexican town, where he collides with the schemes of local drug lord Miguel Zamora, who’s spiraling out of control as he feeds his coke addiction and who foolishly plots to rip off both the Colombians and his partners in the government. Meanwhile, two corrupt border cops discover that they’re way over their heads in their dealings with Zamora. Unable to trust anyone around them, the two must learn how far they can trust themselves. Many books call themselves “thrillers,” but this is the real deal. (Aug.)”
—Publishers Weekly [Starred Review]
“Birtcher combines a gritty, action-filled thriller with a nuanced, almost contemplative character drama in which a wealth of well-drawn characters attempt to make sense of their places in a run-amok world. Thoroughly thrilling.”