Richard Marder left the doctor's office a new man; one with suddenly shortened lifespan: funny how death sentences change your outlook. The sixty-odd widower wrote just one thing on his bucket list: avenge the murder of his in-laws by a Mexican cartel, thereby avenging the death of his wife three years ago. So the supposedly mild-mannered book editor bent to his task; starting with a mansion in his late wife's home town, Playa Diamante, Michoacán. A rich gringo's palace would serve as bait; as Marder thumbed his nose at the local narcotraficantes.
Accompanied by his best friend Skelly, an uber-mysterious and -violent security expert, Marder moved south. He was soon followed by his daughter Carmel; a world-class engineering mind resting comfortably in the body of a world-class swimmer. Even as the three remade Isla de Pájaros into a model for a new Mexico, the zopilotes gathered. The future of the man, the plan, the daughter and the friend depended on the three’s skill… and cunning. Would Marder get revenge, or would the thugs continue to dominate? Would the bubble in Marder's brain explode before everything was resolved? Stay tuned…
The first thing you should know about Michael Gruber's The Return is that it defies classification. Is it a thriller? a war story? a love story, a coming-of-age tale, a philosophical text? The answer’s simple: "Yes." It’s all those.
Gruber, a New Yorker by birth, surfaces in rural Mexico for The Return. There’s apparently no jet lag from his trip, however. He blends multiple genres, from combat flashbacks in Southeast Asia of 1969 to an MIT grad-student cubicle to a coop in the making at a colonia on Mexico's Pacific coast. Throughout, Gruber demonstrates the style to which his fans are already accustomed: rich settings populated by powerful characters carrying out a multi-layered plot.
As in previous novels (The Book of Air and Shadows, The Forgery of Venus), Gruber pulls in the reader with rich characters and deft plotting. He informs them through brief historical and philosophical asides and maintains their interest with scattered moments of humor and an undertone of grit. For instance, Gruber has written one of the strangest sex scenes I’ve ever read, notable not merely for spartan prurience but for a running comedic conversation between the lovers. And then there’s the satisfaction of seeing that bad guys do sometimes get their just deserts.
Gruber might have started out a writing police procedural series (Night of the Jaguar, Tropic of Night), but he’s blossomed though his exceptional and unconventional standalones. And, yes: Gruber has (and uses) a vocabulary of remarkable depth.