Rage and loathing in Key West
by Steve Whitton
Special to The Star
Mar 10, 2013 | 2962 views |  0 comments | 93 93 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“American Tropic”
by Thomas Sanchez, Knopf, 2013, 205 pp., $24.95.

“Show me the rage.” That’s the phrase with which Noah Sax, radio pirate, challenges his listeners every time he answers one of the three cell phones in the pilothouse of Noah’s Lark, his trawler anchored just off Key West. It’s that rage that saturates this new eco-thriller from Thomas Sanchez, a rage so pronounced that it sometimes works against his book.

Noah is a former lawyer who drinks too much rum and rages about the destruction of his beloved Key West, most recently by hungry developers swallowing up the landscape. He is so rabid in his defense of the environment that he has little time left to convince his wife, Zoe, to tear up the divorce papers she’s been trying to get him to sign. He anchors his trawler just off shore, far enough not to break any laws, but close enough to champion his cause by invading the local airways. One of his callers, however, turns out to be an eco-friendly serial killer.

Investigating the crimes is Luz Zamora, Cuban police detective, who is the life partner of Noah’s sister Joan. One of Luz’s teenage daughters is getting too old, too fast; the younger is wheelchair-ridden and fighting cancer. Cancer also claimed Luz’s father back in the 1980s. He was a homicide detective who died right after he killed Bizango, “a righteous assassin.”

Now Bizango, the voodoo avenger, has reappeared, taking up the same cause as Noah. Bizango always surfaces in a wetsuit emblazoned with a skeleton and leaves victims spear-gunned though the heart, ears cut off and message-laden digital recorder sewn into their mouths. He then marks his work with a spray-painted red X. It’s a remarkable villain, worthy of those in the books of, say, Scandinavian writer Jo Nesbo.

All of this would surely be enough. But there’s more.

There’s rage against cruise ships, sea turtle poachers, destroyers of endangered Key deer, even dogfight promoters. There are residents of Key West with names like Randy Dandy, Big Conch, Hogfish and Hard Puppy. There’s a Halloween fantasy parade. In fact, there’s even talk of a hurricane named El Finito.

That’s an awful lot for barely 200 pages. Often, it’s hard to know where to look, especially when Sanchez’s rage over the destruction of the environment frequently stops his plot’s momentum. Sadly, “too much” ends up being “not enough,” and the pay-off just isn’t as believable or moving as it’s meant to be.

Carl Hiassen writes of the same locales and tempers his anger with wry humor. Thomas Sanchez doesn’t. His anger — and there’s a lot of it — is righteous. This time, though, all that anger doesn’t make for a wholly satisfying thriller.

Steven Whitton is a Professor of English at Jacksonville State University.
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Rage and loathing in Key West by Steve Whitton
Special to The Star

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