Fifty Grand

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Fifty Grand By Adrian McKintyMercado, a tough Cuban cop manages to wangle a visa to Mexico from where she enlists the help of a people smuggler to get into the United States. She’s bound for Colorado where she hopes to find out the truth about her father’s death: he was recently killed in what was said to be a hit and run accident. Her father, who had been working as a pest controller had been posing as a Mexican immigrant, even though, as a Cuban defector, he would have been legally entitled to a green card: this news only creates more questions for Mercado.

In Fairview, Colorado, Mercado blends herself into a town frequented by America’s rich and beautiful. Working for the loathsome Esteban, Mercado learns the reality about what it is to be an illegal in the United States. Meanwhile, the search for the truth about her father leads Mercado to Jack Tyrone, a handsome and charismatic actor whose charms Mercado finds magnetic. Tyrone’s connection to Mercado’s quest? He’s one of a list of suspects that Mercado has been given by her journalist brother. What follows is an energetic and witty novel that is as tender as it is tough: in discovering the truth about her father, Mercado learns a lot about herself and life in general.

In some respects the outcome of Adrian McKinty’s fast-paced thriller is predictable but it’s the means by which the conclusion is reached that make “Fifty Grand” one of this year’s must-read paperbacks.

The characterisation is superb. It would have been easy to portray Mercado as a comic book heroine. Yes, she’s ballsy and tough but there’s a touch of humanity about her that keeps the character grounded in reality. There are two aspects to Mercado’s mission: the first, of course, is to find out who killed her father but the other, in which she hopes to find out why he abandoned her in Cuba on her 15th birthday and whether he ever intended to go back for her, gives the characters a background that is often missing from thrillers where the characters seem to me to often only exist for the purposes of the immediate story.

Then there are the settings: the story takes place mainly between Fairview and Havana and both locations are vividly painted. Havana becomes this sultry and dangerous dichotomy between colonial beauty and abject poverty. It’s a side of Cuba that could surprise many readers. Fairview, on the other hand, is the fictional hideout of many of Hollywood’s big names. Garrulous to a fault, Jack Tyrone gives a humorous and frank commentary on Fairview in what is one of the comic highlights of the novel.

“I’ve found in McKinty a writer who has made appealing a genre that I wouldn’t normally think of reading.”

For a thriller there’s a fair bit of social commentary. “Fifty Grand” isn’t just cops and robbers. This is a book with depth but it’s to McKinty’s credit that it works so effortlessly. The harsh reality of being an illegal in the United States is exposed; when Mercado agrees to work for Esteban in order to get the cover she needs to keep her in Fairview, she dives head first into a world where desperate people do whatever it takes to remain in the country. One part I found particularly convincing was the jeep ride when Mercado is being smuggled into the States. I could feel the humidity inside the cramped vehicle, the nervousness of the would-be immigrants palpable.

The writing is superb. It’s descriptive without being too wordy and if it were it wouldn’t work in the same way. The sparse style is perfect for the genre and the brisk pace creates a sense of urgency and heightens the drama. A male author writing in a first person female voice may raise eyebrows but McKinty pulls it off. I thought this could have made Mercado a caricature but with writing this good there’s no danger of that.

I’ve found in McKinty a writer who has made appealing a genre that I wouldn’t normally think of reading. He’s considerable talent and “Fifty Grand” is well worth a trip to any book store.

Thanks to Profile Books for providing a free review copy of the book.


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Fifty Grand
by Adrian McGinty

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Written by Mary Bor
Mary Bor

Aspiring travel writer and avid Yugophile living in the UK and Slovenia. Loves (in no particular order) Scandinavian crime fiction, Indian food, walking, scavenging, Russian dolls

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