Lionel White was a successful crime-noir writer and journalist. From 1952 through 1978, the New York City native authored 36 novels, some of which have been adapted to international cinema. While crime-fiction was certainly his forte, White specialized in an entertaining sub-genre – the heist. The New York Times deemed White as the “king of capers” and noirish filmmaker Quentin Tarantino credited the author as an influence on his cult crime classic “Reservoir Dogs”. While the author's 1950s work is substantially the best of his career, the talented scribe proved that he still had some literary strength in the 70s. At age 69, White authored “The Mexico Run”, a clever twist on the caper novel published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1974.
Mark Johns is a Vietnam vet who's fresh out of the service. Saving $18,000, Johns was encouraged by a fellow soldier to start running marijuana from Mexico into southern California. As the book begins, Johns is making the arrangements to meet a distributor of Acapulco Gold (a popular 1960s high class grass). His plan is to buy several kilos from a Mexican wholesaler and transport it using his friend Angel's fishing boat. After all of the planning and prepping, Johns is ready for the real thing. However, once he meets 17-year old Sharon, the whole thing begins to crumble.
After saving her from a savage boyfriend, Johns is forced to drag Sharon into his Mexican drug run. Using his Army buddy's contacts, Johns meets up with a crooked police officer named Captain Morales. The plan comes together that Morales gets 25% of the profit and will help smooth things over – as a respected officer of the law – so Johns can make the run. But, it's only after Johns successfully transports the dope that he finally realizes he's caught in a wicked trap – Morales wants Sharon badly and promises to keep her safe as long as Johns will start running narcotics. When Angel is imprisoned on a fake murder charge, Johns must either accept his fate as a drug-running mule for Morales or somehow escape from the game and still save Sharon and Angel.
Instead of dwelling on one bank heist, White expands the narrative with a complex game of drug running missions through customs. It's a fresh and enjoyable prose that left me breathless with possible outcomes. There's a remarkable twist at the end that hit me like a lead pipe, a feat that is next to impossible considering the volume of fiction I'm digesting weekly. From seedy motels to abandoned coastal villas, White takes advantage of atmosphere and environment to create his riveting portrait of betrayal and intrigue.
As of this writing, “The Mexico Run” isn't available as an e-book. That could be the biggest crime of all. Buy a used copy and breathe new life into a long lost classic.
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