City Without Stars, Tim Baker

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Dark humour, brutal murder, appalling degradation, unrelenting poverty and corrupt law enforcement all combine to create something challenging, and thought-provoking in CITY WITHOUT STARS. Following on from his first novel FEVER CITY (shortlisted for the CWA's John Creasey New Blood Dagger, and nominated for the Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award for best first novel), Tim Baker, has created a view of Mexico in this second novel that's confronting and discomforting.

In amongst the heat, noise and sheer pulse of life within Ciudad Real, there are stories of women going missing, found brutally murdered. As the storyline bounces between descriptive passages on the deprivation of the town, the heat and dry desert surrounds, there are the stories of the foreign run factories, where many of these victims work. Mostly female workers, exploited by low pay and gruelling shifts, violence and sexual abuse always at the edges, the air of menace and threat builds, much like the heat haze builds as the weather imposes it's restrictions on life as well.

At the centre of all of this union activist Pilar, decides enough is enough, but her only ally turns out to be somebody from the corrupt law enforcement agencies. Pilar and Fuentes have to find a way to work together, and a way through the maze of corruption, and influence.

Dripping violence, and threat, reader's may find aspects of CITY WITHOUT STARS overwhelming. There were definitely points where this reader felt out of her depth. Everybody is corrupt - from the police force, to the factory bosses, the Catholic hierarchy, city officials and drug cartels. The disregard for life and dignity, the pursuit of money at all costs is lightened by the two main characters Baker is building here, with Pilar and Fuentes inspiring, without overblowing that aspect, and interesting, without making them too perfect for words.

The flurries of dark humour help enormously though, and whilst this is definitely the sort of book that you're going to find challenging, it's obviously supposed to be. CITY WITHOUT STARS is dark noir styled crime fiction, where the worst of human behaviour is dissected, flayed out, laid bare, called for what it is. No excuses, no cover ups, no pretence.

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The only thing more dangerous than the cartels is the truth...

In Ciudad Real, Mexico, a deadly war between rival cartels is erupting, and hundreds of female sweat-shop workers are being murdered. As his police superiors start shutting down his investigation, Fuentes suspects most of his colleagues are on the payroll of narco kingpin, El Santo.

Meanwhile, despairing union activist, Pilar, decides to take social justice into her own hands. But if she wants to stop the killings, she's going to have to ignore all her instincts and accept the help of Fuentes. When the name of Mexico's saintly orphan rescuer, Padre Márcio, keeps resurfacing, Pilar and Fuentes begin to realise how deep the cover-up goes. 

Review City Without Stars, Tim Baker
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, February 20, 2020
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