“Book Review: Trust Me”
Reviewed by Ruben Degollado
Ambition, corruption, grift, politics, and the mysteries of the human heart clash in this fast-paced novel about desperate people trying to find their place in the world.
Oftentimes, when someone says, “Trust me,” what they are really saying is that they should not be trusted. And in Richard Z. Santos’s debut novel, Trust Me, we are presented with a host of characters that cannot be trusted. Each is desperate, disparate, and working an angle. What can be trusted here is that by picking up this book from Santos and Arte Público Press, you are in for a well-paced, thoroughly authentic, and page-turning ride.
Desperate characters make for some of my favorite books and movies. What makes movies like Chinatown, Fargo, and Rounders interesting for me are the machinations and motivations of the schemers, grifters, and swindlers. Trust Me is a nice addition to this cannon, and I would love to see it made into a movie. Let me tell you why.
Richard Z. Santos paints a modern New Mexican landscape of land grabs, tribal politics, and desperate, desperate people. One of those people is Charles O’Connell who is coming off of a searing professional loss. He comes to New Mexico for a second chance working as a PR representative for the construction of an airport, something not everyone wants. Except there’s a problem: Bones have been found, and mysterious tribal representatives come forward claiming that the bones belong to Geronimo himself.
This creates a political storm, but it also creates a problem for one of the other main characters, Gabe, a down-on-his-luck New Mexican who’s been diagnosed with cancer by a medicine man. He is now out of work as authorities investigate the claim, and he’s got people to pay. Charles wants a fresh start to make some money off of this deal while Gabriel just wants enough money to survive and redeem himself in his son’s eyes.
Getting in the way of Charles’s redemption (or so it seems) is his employer Branch, the millionaire trying to push this deal through, and the staff who are working for him: Lou, Mallon, and Diana. And to make matters worse for Charles, his ex-wife Olivia is now married to the dangerous Branch and has an agenda all of her own. My only wish (a penny’s worth) for something different with this book was to see Gabe and Charles’s stories intersect. I kept waiting for it to happen, and actually wanted to see them join forces, but alas, it was not to be. Like I said, it’s a small thing, because the story is rich and resolved without it, but it still would have been nice.
The more you immerse yourself into the desert conference rooms, rental properties, and construction sites of Santos’s New Mexico and these characters’ lives, you find yourself conflicted. Are these people selfish? Yes. Can you trust them? Definitely not. Do you understand them and want to see them win somehow? Yes, because as you find, all of them also have redeeming qualities and sometimes the thing they want is for someone else.
Santos does the same thing in Trust Me that Vince Gilligan and other writers did in Breaking Bad. He makes us love these characters we should not love despite their flaws, and sometimes because of them. He also tells a story that is full of twists and turns, which in turn made me finish this book faster than I usually do.
Do yourself a favor and pick up this novel that is part noir, part political thriller, part literary character exploration. You’ll love it and you’ll find these characters scheming to stay with you and win you over. Trust me.
Publisher: Arte Público Press
Paperback: 312 pages
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