Missing in Mexico is described as a tourism suspense novel and that’s certainly a sub-genre that’s new to me; however, Gustafson’s writing and clear knowledge of his setting, local customs and the language does make it easy to slip into the novel and feel perfectly at ease with the locations of the book.
Stan Walkorski is a jaded but excellent PI: he’s clearly seen too much of the world and its troubles and this has made him a little weary and cynical but conversely has also served to make him excellent at his job. When a young woman disappears in a Mexican airport, Stan has very little to go on, save some patchy information from her parents and best friend. Heading over to Los Cabos is the only way he can get to the heart of the matter.
My knowledge of Spanish, Latin-American or otherwise is basic to say the least but I did enjoy the chapter headers, which consisted of a word, translated and then used in the context of a sentence. For example:
comer (cō·mĕr’) – to eat. Quiero comer tacos. I want to eat tacos.
This was a quirky but enjoyable take on the theme of using quotations or chapter headings, which again highlighted Gustafson’s knowledge and the authenticity of the information used in the novel.
The story gives you the impression that Stan is following a well travelled path that he’s encountered many times before, though it never gets any easier. Although Stan gives very little away about himself, his actions often betray his true feelings and it’s clear that at heart he is a good man who just wants to see right done in the world. Unfortunately, you also get the impression that in his line of work it’s more likely to see flying pigs. Stan displays a heartwarming touch of vulnerability throughout the novel that makes him even more appealing as a central character.
If you’d have asked me previously if I thought a travel writer, turned novelist could produce a convincing ‘tourism suspense’ I’d have probably looked at you in confusion and then assumed you were joking but actually this works well. The old adage “write what you know” comes in to play here and Missing in Mexico is a good combination of intriguing story, likeable protagonist and a convincing, well written setting, based on fact and experience. An excellent debut.
Note: Review copy (PDF) received as part of a Partners in Crime tour