Title: The Chupacabra: A Borderline Crazy Tale of Coyotes, Cash & Cartels by Stephen Randal
Page Count: 322
Published On: August 19, 2012
Goodreads Rating: 4.20
Buy via: Amazon | B&N
Summary: He is called El Barquero. He makes his trade along the border, smuggling guns and killing without remorse. As he faces his one last mission, his perfect plan is unwittingly foiled by Avery, a paranoid loner obsessed with global conspiracy theories who spends most of his time crafting absurd and threatening letters to anyone who offends him. That means pretty much everyone. What unfolds is a laugh out loud dark comedy of madcap adventure stretching from Austin to the West Texas border featuring a lunatic band of civilian border militia, a group of bingo-crazed elderly ladies (one packing a pistol nearly as long as her arm), a murderous and double-crossing cartel boss, a burned-out hippy, and a crotchety retired doctor and his pugnacious French bulldog. Read it to believe it.
Initially, I was unsure about reading this book. This is my very first blog tour and I was nervous about stepping outside my typical genre comfort zone. Dark comedy is a genre I can take or leave and I was worried I would hate the book. However, as I began reading the story, I was pleasantly surprised by this delightful tale. I was immediately drawn to the vibrant world these quirky characters inhabit. Stephen Randal’s writing was compelling and magical; the tone was both earnest and off-beat without ever feeling too silly. He managed to toe ‘the quirky line’ without ever the story or the characters suffering; something that takes real talent to accomplish.
For the most part, the plot is merely a device to move the characters from place to place. The true strength of the novel lies within the colorful characters and how they create the situations instead of being pushed around by the plot. The characters never live out of the realm of possibility; their actions are always believable and the consequences (positive and negative) are always earned.
There are many stand-out characters in the story. Some of my favorites were: Avery (a pudgy and paranoid Sheldon Cooper-esque cryptozoologist), El Baquero (the anti-hero “ferryman” who runs guns for the cartels), Kip (a former Wall Street guru who pines for his almost love Jackie), US Border Patrol agents Hank Martin and Maria Diaz, and STRAC-BOM (a bumbling militia led by General X-Ray tasked with trying to stop illegals from crossing the border). I also can’t forget the English Bulldog Max! I thought it was hilarious the dog had a point of view during the story. Who doesn't want to know what their dog is thinking? It could have come off as incredibly corny, but instead it was incredibly sweet.
While there is a lively ensemble that supports the inter-connecting story, it is the inevitable collision course of El Baquero and Avery that propels the tension of the tale. Both characters are portrayed as impossible to love, but their character complexities make them both provocative forces of nature. On the surface, it does not seem like they have anything in common, but a deeper look shows how truly similar they are. Both El Baquero and Avery are broken loners that have suffered heavy personal losses. As a result, their lives have spiraled into deep madness. However, they both have plans to escape their current sorry states. It is because of these plans that they clash into destiny.
In the story, the chupacabra is both a literal source of tension and a metaphor for the escalating violence along the Texas-Mexico border. However, I also believe that this legendary being is also the characters’ ultimate emblem of self-actualization; an ideological concept of fulfillment that it is practically mythological itself, but that people continue to strive for all their lives. Avery wants to gain the respect of his peers by finding a complete specimen of the chupacabra, El Baquero wants to retire from his dangerous life, Kip wants to find happiness with his long-time friend Jackie, STRAC-BOM wants to prove they are true patriots, and even Max wants to find peace and quiet. These goals motivate the characters to choose their own paths whatever the cost, rather than having the plot force particular motivations for a desired effect. The characters both need and want something to make them feel complete. Therefore in the story, the chupacabra becomes a quintessential badge of desire.
The only major gripe I have is that the climax of the story was rushed and there was no real resolution to the story. There was so much build-up to all of these characters finally coming together in a Love Actually kind of way and it just sort of fell flat. The author seemed to be going for an intimate setting for the finale, but the characters would have been better served if it took place in public. It seemed contrived that every single character (most characters) managed to acquire an invite to a supposedly intimate dinner between friends. Yes, this is a small town, but what are the odds everyone, no matter what their personal relationship ends up together at someone's house for a very spontaneous event?
Furthermore, where was the ending? The story just stopped. We never got to see what became of all the characters. I realize it might have been cheesy to wrap everything up, but I wanted to see if El Baquero actually retired, Kip got the girl, the agents got promotions, Avery got a response from IKEA, and if Max ever found the mole. I spent so much time with these characters that I would have liked to have seen what had ultimately became of them (and actually would love to spend even more time with them!). Perhaps, the lack of an ending is meant to convey that the hunt for the chupacabra will never stop just like the violence along the border will never end. Maybe the message is that life is struggle, but we will always strive for those impossible ideals.
In conclusion, The Chupacabra is an enchanting tale of destiny anchored by a lively ensemble of colorful characters.