Not only do I write mysteries but I love reading them, too, especially the ones that take me to new places. This week’s book review is of A COMMON EVIL by Billy Ray Chitwood, a gem I discovered via Twitter. There aren’t many mysteries set in Mexico but Chitwood’s Bailey Crane series, of which A COMMON EVIL is the 6th and last, is a frequent and thoughtful visitor.
The novel takes us to a seaside resort along Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Bailey is a retired Arizona cop who, with his wife Wendy, has settled into the condo resort in Mexico and is now the homeowner’s association head honcho. But along with sun and luxe, the Cranes also find danger and duplicity.
The cornerstone of the story is a scenario in which the largest cartel in Mexico, with a jefe who is not too objectionable, promises to clean up the violence and strike a deal with the Mexican government. Part of the clean-up action (read: getting rid of his rivals in order to run a drug monopoly with Mexico City’s approval) spills over onto Bailey’s turf. There’s a shootout on the resort property and Wendy is kidnapped because of a letter Bailey wrote protesting the dubious dealings of an American consorting with the cartels. Bailey’s survival instincts surge to the fore, although not always with the results he intends.
This isn’t the usual whodunit but a look at Mexico’s drug war through an expatriate’s eye. The charm of the novel—and the series–is Bailey’s unmissable musings on life and love. The tone feels autobiographical and authentic. His voice is a gutsier, spicier, and more raw version of Alexander McCall Smith’s point of view in the latter’s Isabel Dalhousie series but Bailey’s subject matter is both more intense and immediate. Even if you can’t quite wrap your head around the cartel-government bedfellows plot, A COMMON EVIL has plenty of twists, character surprises, and an alternately sunny and dangerous atmosphere that keep the pages turning.