The Hot Country

Written by Robert Olen Butler
Review by Kristen Hannum

War reporter Christopher “Kit” Marlowe Cobb is in Mexico in the spring of 1914, covering the Mexican civil war, the U.S. troops in Vera Cruz, and the furtive maneuverings of Germans – who were coming ashore for what reprehensible purpose? Cobb soon witnesses shootings, recruits a child pickpocket as extra eyes and ears, and falls for his laundress, Luisa, despite immediately realizing that she is far more than a simple washerwoman. Before long, he’s shooting back.

Robert Olen Butler has won enough plaques, including a Pulitzer, to cover a wall, but after coming up for air after reading the first paragraph of The Hot Country, I wondered if he hadn’t imbibed too much Woody Allen during this book’s writing. I kept with the story (had to – I was reviewing it) and ended up with a new entry among my favorite authors. Butler writes action scenes in a unique way that perfectly captures the way time slows down during disaster and death – it’s a different flow altogether, but how to show that? Butler does it through sentence structure, a kind of magic that recalls the fact that grammar and glamour (magic) derive from the same root. Beyond that, he’s come up with a believable scenario that would have changed history had our hero not been on hand to right things – in itself a wonderful achievement. Authors aiming for this usually fall into the clutches of death ray-wielding Nazi psychics bent on world domination. Butler, in contrast, offers up something plausible yet memorable in the guise of Pancho Villa and the Kaiser’s Germans.

The Hot Country is literate, funny, action-packed, vivid, and intriguing. It brings to life a rarely written-about historical episode and introduces a sexy, smart, and brave character – Kit Cobb – with whom you’ll want to spend more time. Recommended.