So. Gabino Iglesias. I had never read any of his work before. To be honest, I didn’t really know that he was a fiction author. We were facebook friends and I had read a ton of book reviews by him. In fact, I greatly admire him as a book reviewer and follow his reviews avidly. But I had never encountered his fiction. Then I started seeing this book pop up over and over again. All over Facebook and Twitter people were raving about it, and it got so hot the feds had to step in to keep it from burning down the internet. You all remember that, right? Well, I might be exaggerating just a tad, but that’s the way it should have gone. The book is ZERO SAINTS and if things happened the way they should in life the internet would be a smoking ruin right now.
Being 100% serious, there really were a lot of people that I trust and respect talking up this book around my various social media feeds and, among those of us heavy into dark noir, it was an exceptionally hot topic. Hot enough that I had to get my hands on a copy as soon as I possibly could. And I’m so, so glad I did. ZERO SAINTS is like nothing I’ve read in this sub-genre before. Iglesias himself describes it as barrio noir and that’s actually pretty apt. It’s the story of a superstitious drug dealer and cartel enforcer, Fernando, an unwilling immigrant to southern Texas who finds himself at odds with a rival gang led by a ruthless and terrifying man who might have been spawned in the depths of hell.
In ZERO SAINTS Gabino Iglesias does something that I’ve seen done before, but rarely with any great success. In fact, the only name that comes to mind, other than Iglesias, is Cormac McCarthy. What I’m talking about is the use of Macaronic language, the integration of one language into the context of another. In McCarthy’s case, his usage is strictly a Spanish/English crossover or what people refer to as Spanglish. With Iglesias’ book, it’s mostly Spanish but he also does it successfully with Russian in a few places. For those of you who are sitting there trying to figure out what the fuck I’m talking about, here’s a sample, in which Iglesias unwittingly describes the essence of the book:
Todo deja de ser roca para convertirse en agua. Everything flows. Everything acquires the consistency of shadows seen in dreams.
This is done frequently throughout the narrative, but never clumsily, and it’s really quite beautiful, even poetic, in it’s execution.
ZERO SAINTS is straightforward, hardcore noir fiction, sometimes brutally violent, fast paced, and brooding. It’s also brutally honest at times and looks issues like poverty and immigration right in the face boldly and fearlessly:
What happens when you cross la frontera is that you want to clean up, find a good job somewhere, meet a beautiful, sweet girl. You want the American Dream. But fuck all that. The American Dream is as false as the meat in your one-dollar burger and the canned laughter you hear on television. And it’s even worse for you. You have no skills and no diploma and no friends and no nada. You’re a problem. Un ilegal más. A beaner. A television joke. A wetback. You’re nothing but an issue brainless white politicians discuss from the safety of their offices.
Having read tons of hardcore dark crime and noir of every type, I can honestly say that ZERO SAINTS is completely unique, both in content and execution. It’s crime and violence with a bite, but it’s also literary, with an underlying philosophy that is lacking in a lot of noir fiction. It’s also rife with underpinnings of horror and the supernatural, with elements that will scare the hell out of you. That’s no exaggeration. Parts of this book literally gave me chills and it’s no easy feat to scare me.
I haven’t had so much raw, unadulterated fun with a book in a long time and I can’t wait to see what comes out of Iglesias’ masterful pen next. And I hope to god he revisits Fernando and delivers more of this delightful, unique “barrio noir” that he’s so adept at. As he should be since he pretty much created it. Gabino Iglesias is a rockstar wordsmith and ZERO SAINTS is not the work of a one trick pony. I have a feeling Iglesias will be a name that fans of dark fiction will utter again and again in the coming months and years. I certainly hope it is, and you will too after you read ZERO SAINTS. Go get it. Read it before you die.
ZERO SAINTS synopsis: Enforcer and drug dealer Fernando has seen better days. On his way home from work, some heavily-tattooed gangsters throw him in the back of a car and take him to an abandoned house, where they saw off his friend’s head and feed the kid’s fingers to…something. Their message is clear: this is their territory, now. But Fernando isn’t put down that easily. Using the assistance of a Santeria priestess, an insane Puerto Rican pop sensation, a very human dog, and a Russian hitman, he’ll build the courage (and firepower) he’ll need to fight a gangbanger who’s a bit more than human…
About Gabino Iglesias: Gabino Iglesias was born somewhere, but then moved to a different place. He has worked as dog whisperer, witty communications professor, and ballerina assassin. Now he hides near a dumpster in Austin, Texas, where he works as a freelance journalist and impersonates a PhD student. His nonfiction has appeared in places like The New York Times, Z Magazine, El Nuevo Día, and others. The stuff that’s made up has been published in places like Red Fez, Flash Fiction Offensive, Drunk Monkeys, Bizarro Central, Paragraph Line, Divergent Magazine, Cease, Cows, and a few horror, surrealist, and bizarro anthologies. When not writing or fighting ninja squirrels, he devours books and spits out reviews that are published in places like Verbicide, The Rumpus, Word Riot, Heavy Feather Review, The Lazy Fascist Review, Bookslut, Electric Literature, Atticus Review, Entropy, HorrorTalk, Necessary Fiction, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Out of the Gutter, Spinetingler Magazine, Buzzy Mag, and a few other print and online venues. He’s currently working on overcoming his crippling hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.