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This Side of Night

Review

This Side of Night

J. Todd Scott has been a federal agent in the employ of the DEA for over two decades. His service has included a stint as the leader of a multiagency strike force utilized in shutting down Mexican cartel smuggling routes. His novels, of which the newly published THIS SIDE OF NIGHT is the third (following THE FAR EMPTY and HIGH WHITE SUN), are set in the Big Bend area of western Texas, along the Mexican border and consisting of Brewster, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties. They take place primarily in fictitious Big Bend County, which shares numerous characteristics of its three real-world cousins, including vast acreage, unforgiving terrain and sparse population.

THIS SIDE OF NIGHT wraps up a number of plot lines that originated in the first two novels and leaves a couple of tendrils to carry over to future endeavors. Scott spends a good portion of the first quarter of this latest installment reminding those who have read THE FAR EMPTY and HIGH WHITE SUN (and newcomers to Big Bend) of what has gone before, while setting up some complex and violent dominoes that will be exploded in due course. You can see the fireworks coming, but you don’t know the schedule. The only sure thing is that it is all going to end badly for someone, or several someones.

"By the book’s conclusion, the reader is left in shock, not only by what has occurred but also by the Easter egg or three that Scott leaves unresolved."

So it is that a massacre of protesting students in Mexico sets up a chain reaction that does not recognize borders or innocents. Two survivors of the attack begin a perilous journey toward the United States border, even as several parties search for witnesses to the killings, and not for the purpose of providing medical care.

The murderous attack is orchestrated so that the blame for it splashes back on Fox Uno, the notorious leader of the violent Nemesio Mexican drug cartel. One might argue, and with great justification, that Uno, like Aunt Polly’s Tom Sawyer, wouldn’t miss a lick if he were to receive unjust deserts for the killings. However, Uno has information that is quite valuable to the U.S. government. With his young daughter in tow, he manages to escape to Big Bend, where his niece, Deputy Sheriff America Reynosa, might be able to secure his safety, if not his freedom. Big Bend is hardly a safe haven, though. Sheriff Chris Cherry is involved in a reelection effort that is quite challenging, all the more so because he isn’t entirely sure he wants to continue in the position or even that he is the best person for the job.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department of an adjacent county is in league with the cartels and is not above taking a piece of the action for itself. There are plenty of problems for Cherry to deal with, and he often has to choose his battles, at home and within and outside his department, a task made more difficult given that not everybody is telling him the whole truth all the time. When things eventually blow up, it takes a while to sort everything out. By the book’s conclusion, the reader is left in shock, not only by what has occurred but also by the Easter egg or three that Scott leaves unresolved.

THIS SIDE OF NIGHT is presented as fiction, but given Scott’s background and the immediacy of his narration, one cannot help but think that many of the vignettes that are woven into the story took place in the here and now. Scott, as demonstrated by the epilogue, obviously has more stories to tell. I, for one, will be happy to read them going forward.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 26, 2019

This Side of Night
by J. Todd Scott

  • Publication Date: July 16, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0735212910
  • ISBN-13: 9780735212916