The Hot Country is the first in the too-short Christopher Marlowe Cobb series by Robert Olen Butler. I read this shortly after it came out in 2012 and loved it. The setting and timing (Mexican civil war, during the US invasion of Vera Cruz, in the run-up to WWI) were unusual to me, and were what bumped this to the top of my books-to-be-read pile. And I’m very glad they did!
Cobb is a journalist, who has been sent to cover the US invasion of Veracruz in 1914. Although the invasion was originally a response to the Tampico Affair, events quickly became tangled up in the roiling mess of Mexico’s civil war between the forces of President Victoriano Huerta and those of Venustiano Carranza, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Throw in a German spy or two, a shipment of arms due to arrive soon in Veracruz, a beautiful Mexican who may or may not be the laundress that she seems to be, and Cobb soon has plenty to report – if he survives to do so.
I especially liked the glimpses The Hot Country gave of the Mexican side of things while being invaded by the US. It reminded me of visiting the Monumento a los Niños Héroes (Monument to the Boy Heroes) in Mexico City while I was there on a business trip. It’s a gorgeous monument to six Mexican military cadets who died while defending their country against an earlier US invasion. I think those of us in the US tend to forget to think about things like this from the other side too.
The Hot Country isn’t really a classic mystery – it’s actually more of an adventure/thriller than I usually find to my taste. But I so much enjoyed Butler’s writing, with its vivid depictions of the settings and the characters, as well as the events of the historical background, that I didn’t even notice the lack of a traditional “whodunnit” plot.
I have since read the later three titles in the series which are also quite good, although not quite as great as this one IMO. But they are good enough that I wish Butler would write more titles in the series. Sadly, this is now looking a little unlikely, since the most recent one came out in 2018.
In any case, a nice bonus to this review is that The Hot Country is on sale at Kindle US today (March 13, 2021) for $2.99. Sadly, it’s not on sale at Kobo US, but I’m giving a link for price-checking purposes. And, if you like it, the later titles, although normally rather expensive, tend to go on sale reasonably often, and I’ll be posting about it here if they do. So keep checking back!