I just love a good mystery set right here in gool ol’ rootin’ tootin’ Texas—land of gunslingers, country crooners, cheap Lone Star beer and old timey honkey tonks. That’s why I always enjoy the Al Quinn thrillers by local author Russ Hall. I also tried out a new author, Celso Hurtado, whose title “Ghost Tracks” caught my eye at BookPeople. How could I not read a paranormal thriller involving a legendary stretch of road in San Antonio? Read on to see if these books might be your cup of Texas tea.
Kiss and Kill in Texas by Russ Hall
The synopsis on the back cover does not lie. This could very well be the most dangerous, dare I say suicidal, mission Al Quinn and his mystery squad, including an infant and a dog, (I’m judging just a tad) have taken on. And let me tell you, they’ve endured countless entanglements with drug lords, mercenaries and psychos. This book involves a nasty crime ring in Port Dexter, and it’s up to Al and his crew to clean up the streets before more unsuspecting tourists end up in Davy Jones’ locker! Eeek!
What I liked: I keep coming back to these books because the author really gives his readers a strong sense of place. I love, love, love that this book takes place in a seedy coastal town right next to Port Aransas. I could practically feel the salty, humid air on my skin and see the rustic shrimp boats out in the distance. Although, believe me, you won’t want to have anything to do with the shrimp boat in this story! I also loved the side characters, especially Luke Boy, who despite his sketchy beginnings became a real asset to the crime-solving team as they kept running out of the fire pan into the fire with gun-toting, missile-launching thugs on their trail.
What irked me: OK, so I know that Al’s squad works as a unit, and every single member of his family are assets…however, I was really judging the new mom, Bonnie, for bringing her baby along on this mission, especially since every past crime-solving voyage has involved countless near-death experiences. Also, Tanner the dog really should’ve sat this one out. I know their Lake Travis homestead was ransacked by killers early on, but couldn’t the new mom and children be dropped off somewhere safe?
Overall: Normally I don’t read action thrillers, but the Al Quinn mysteries are always a good time! Yes, I was judging Bonnie for bringing her baby along, but other than that little grievance, I rather enjoyed this thrill ride. The pacing just keeps ratcheting up, and you will not want to put this thing down until the evil criminal mastermind is taken down for good! Also, might I add that the writing is top notch, and I did not see even one typo! That’s more than I could say for many books I’ve read from the big publishing houses.
The Ghost Tracks by Celso Hurtado
I did a double take when I saw this paperback on the horror shelf at BookPeople. A ghost story revolving around the haunted railroad tracks in San Antonio? Yes, please! I lived in San Antonio for three years and am ashamed to say I never visited that legendary road where people stop their cars and wait for ghost children (the spirits of kiddos who perished in a bus-train collision) to push them across the railroad tracks to safety. My guess is that this road is on an imperceptible incline, but hey who knows? Anyhoo, this book was interesting, and mostly very sad, but it didn’t give me what I wanted.
What I liked: The main characters, two best friends named Erasmo and Rat, are starting up their own ghost-busting business to make ends meet. Such fun! These two are what the kids call “ride or die” BFFs, which I really appreciate. They have each other’s backs…at least until Rat goes rogue, but I’ll save you from spoilers. Either way, these two characters—and all their emotional baggage—are the main reasons why I continued reading this book. I was invested in Erasmo’s quest to pay for his grandmother’s cancer treatments. I felt so much for him and really wanted to see everything work out in the end!
What irked me: I wanted a ghost story, and didn’t get one! This is more of a crime thriller involving two hapless teenage ghost hunters getting tangled up with some shady, shady clients. The author certainly doesn’t shy away from gruesome scenes, but the scares had very little to do with the paranormal. Also, this book is set in San Antonio, but the setting is woefully lacking. The only nods to Texas are some scenes outside the HEB, and maybe a few rides on 410. And the ghost tracks? Not really a big part of the story whatsoever. Big disappointment!
Overall: This book has its share of problems, but the “How’s this going to end?” question kept me from trashing it in the DNF pile. I loved the themes of friendship and family, but the plot was all over the place and the big reveal was super bizarre.