Book Review: Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias

‘Zero Saints is filled with such shimmering scenes, scenes that blend the ordinary and the weird, the sacred and the profane, violence with poetry, gore that manages to gouge its way onto your heart even as the horror gnaws at your soul.

One or two clicks in any virtual direction and you’re bound to stumble on a Gabino Iglesias byline.  Whether a heartfelt essay, book review, or an illuminatingly weird interview—you’ll know it by Iglesias’ simmering curiosity, thirst for words, and deadpan smarts.

But if you have read any of Iglesias’s fiction—Gutmouth, described by Stephen Graham Jones as “partway between Ugly Americans and that old Pixy comic book,” or The Hungry Darkness, blurbed by Jim Ruland as “the perfect beach read for those looking for reasons not to go into the water,”—you’ll also know that Iglesias has a keen feel for hyperreal body violence, bizarre plot twists, and lost souls with hearts of tarnished oro. What Zero Saints does above and beyond that, is to allow Iglesias to take all that talent, and add a radiant dose of pure story to the mix. And that story, mis amigos, begins and ends on the mean streets of Austin TX, with a small-time dealer called Fernando.

Fernando has packed many lifetimes into the five years between Austin and Mexico City, fled over some bad business with a cartel goon. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but what he didn’t count on was that, in crossing La Frontera, everything he knew, everyone he loved, all that he was, would soon be lost to the swamp of memory.

“What happens when you cross La Frontera is that you leave a place to enter a void. You vacate a known reality and change it for something that you have to force yourself to believe to accept…you morph… your body becomes a magnet for the bad stuff that has piled up along that awful dividing line. Muerte. Destrucción, Desesperación. La nada infinta, la noche eternal full of screams.”

Welcome to America!

To silence the screams, Fernando becomes a bouncer and drug dealer, until, for his sins, he’s abruptly stuffed into the trunk of a car and pulled into a violent reckoning with otherworldly forces trying to put the squeeze on Fernando’s boss. Cue a wild bilingual ride through a dark world of blood-rites and Russian hitmen, gold-plated Desert Eagle wielding ex-rappers, levitating psychics, and a hipster gun-dealer that Iglesias just so totally nails that you’re crying with laughter even as you’re scratching your head in astonishment.

But none of these colorful subterraneans is enough. Because the screams are still there. In order to silence them for good, Fernando must draw on some otherworldly forces of his own, namely Santa Muerte, and the spirit of his beloved Consuela—“guia espiritual and abuela rolled into one”—manifested in her pack of sentient strays, who in a pivotal scene “followed her [around her kitchen] like they were tied to her short legs with a very short leash.”

Zero Saints is filled with such shimmering scenes, scenes that blend the ordinary and the weird, the sacred and the profane, violence with poetry, gore that manages to gouge its way onto your heart even as the horror gnaws at your soul. Because the assassin Indio? He’s a villain for the ages. Eyes as noir as the void, face tattoos and a singular devotion to an obscure saint, not to mention a penchant for dismemberment, Indio is like something Lovecraft and Robert Rodriguez might dream up over Jägerbombs. And if Indio’s a new kind of villain, Fernando, is a new kind of noir hero. Less alienated anti-social seeker, than a sucker like the rest of us for a simple Xanax or two, or a smile, or a hug, or the stray wag of a furry tail. Fernando is an exile on both sides of the geographical and moral fence, neither American or Mexican, neither saint nor sinner, as handy with a 9 mm as he is awkward with the ladies—it’s like if the love child of Carlos Fuentes and Jim Thompson got together with the love child of Miguel Cervantes and Elmore Leonard—their child would be Fernando.

Let’s hope we see him again soon.

JS Breukelaar

Publisher: Broken River Books
Paperback (196 pp)
Release Date: 20 October 2015

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