Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Noah Masterson, Gaylon M. Parsons, Dorthy Cole

NOVEMBER 23, 1998: 

El Camino del Rio
by Jim Sanderson (UNM Press, cloth, $21.95)

Presidio, Texas, is a hell hole--a tiny, corrupt border town with two paved streets and unrelenting heat. Dolph Martinez lives in this hell hole, as a member of the U.S. Border Patrol. His job is to catch Mexicans attempting to cross into the land o' freedom and ship them back across the river. Life gets interesting when guns, drugs and dead bodies start piling up around the border, and the mystery begins. True to the formula of the genre, El Camino del Rio has a complex plot, enough characters to keep us guessing and even a tall, leggy blonde. The region itself plays an integral role, as the unforgiving climate affects each character in different ways. Dolph, as a five-foot-six half-Mexican named by his cruel father after Adolf Hitler, is a fairly original protagonist, but ultimately author Jim Sanderson loses track of his many characters and has trouble grappling with the spiritual themes in which he occasionally indulges. There are some great lines, though, my favorite being, "And this is basically what we did every morning, except we didn't always have whores join us for breakfast." (NM)

Damascus Gate
by Robert Stone (Houghton Mifflin, cloth, $26)

Some cultures believe the American Southwest is the center of the world; three world religions, in contrast, believe the ancient city of Jerusalem is the center. Christians, Jews and Muslims all regard that land as holy, and they tend to fight like hell over what the city should be. Robert Stone's new novel records otherworldly and political events in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip with a pen borrowed from Cold War-era spy novelists. Against the backstory of a man writing a book on the Jesus Syndrome, characters and forces of history interweave in dangerous ways. Allegiances shift and shimmer like mirages, and religious identities alternate between zealous faith and the logistics of pragmatism. A rich man from Louisiana believes he is the Messiah; American Bible-thumpers hatch bomb plots; Sufi jazz musicians herald the end of history; Palestinians struggle for water, and all the while embittered or newly pious journalists create the news. This is a masterpiece of intrigue within religious experience within labyrinthine histories of secrets. (GMP)

Marking the Sparrow's Fall
by Wallace Stegner (Henry Holt, cloth, $25)

If you're familiar with Wallace Stegner's various writings and preoccupations, this posthumous collection of short pieces makes a good overview. If you're unfamiliar with Stegner, it's a good way to introduce yourself. Subtitled "Wallace Stegner's American West, edited and with a preface by Page Stegner," the book includes five sections. Four are groups of essays and memoirs separated by emphasis; the fifth is the short novel "Genesis," a sort of Call of the Wild for humans. Because these pieces were written over a period of many years, for many different periodicals, the sections overlap a bit and phrases repeat themselves. Rather than being irritated by this, I found the recurrences increased the feeling of being engaged in conversation with the two writers, father and son, who created the collection. Two main themes run through the articles included here. The first is an appreciation for "The West" and how it differs from Eastern and more settled culture; the second, a crusading anger at the forces that would devalue the region's natural gifts. (DC)

Purple Dots
by Jim Lehrer (Random House, cloth, $23.95)

"News Hour" patriarch Jim Lehrer has been writing fiction for years. All of a sudden his previous novel, White Widow, became a best seller. Now everyone notices Lehrer writing fiction. The new book is pretty good--a cross between Le Carré and Theroux, with a little bit of Sinclair Lewis thrown in. Lehrer's touch is light, his diction vaguely British and his plot amusing. One of the main characters is a retired spy and the other an up-and-coming Republican staff lawyer. Their victim, besides the American people, is a fictional senator from New Mexico who bears more of a resemblance to Bruce King than to any of this state's Washington representatives. The guessing game, to discover Lehrer's acquaintances in disguise, has already begun. The most recognizable character is Washington itself. If I ever go back there to visit, I hope the restaurants and landmarks Lehrer talks about will be as easy to find as they sound here. Those menus are mouth-watering. (DC)

--Noah Masterson, Gaylon M. Parsons and Dorothy Cole

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