Some Rise by Sin, by Philip Caputo

3 minute read

Philip Caputo has written some masterpieces of people and cultures in conflict. Best known perhaps for A Rumor of War, his Vietnam novel, I was first exposed to him reading Acts of Faith, a tragic book about aid workers in the Sudan. Crossers was a deeply thoughtful exploration of the situation near the border between the US and Mexico, which I wrote about here. I was recently fortunate to get an early reviewer copy of Some Rise by Sin, a novel of the drug wars.

Some Rise by Sin

New York Times bestselling author Philip Caputo tells the story of a Franciscan priest struggling to walk a moral path through the shifting and fatal realities of an isolated Mexican villageThe Mexican village of San Patricio is being menaced by a bizarre, cultish drug cartel infamous for its brutality. As the townspeople try to defend themselves by forming a vigilante group, the Mexican army and police have their own ways of fighting back. Into this volatile mix of forces for good and evil (and sometimes both) steps an unlikely broker for peace: Timothy Riordan, an American missionary priest who must decide whether to betray his vows to stop the unspeakable violence and help the people he has pledged to protect. Riordan’s fellow expatriate Lisette Moreno serves the region in a different way, as a doctor who makes “house calls” to impoverished settlements, advocating modern medicine to a traditional society wary of outsiders. To gain acceptance, she must keep secret her rocky love affair with artist Pamela Childress, whose troubled emotions lead Moreno to question their relationship.Together, Lisette and Riordan tend to their community. But when Riordan oversteps the bounds of his position, his personal crisis echoes the impossible choices facing a nation beset by instability and bloodshed.Based on actual events, propelled by moral conflict, and animated by a keen and discerning sensibility, Some Rise by Sin demonstrates yet again Philip Caputo’s generous and insightful gifts as a storyteller.

Timothy Riordan is a conflicted US priest, caught up in an ongoing war between a cultish, hideously brutal Mexican drug cartel and the Mexican military. He’s all too human, and of course very self-critical: “He saw, not in a sudden burst, but, rather, in a gradual dawning, that who he’d thought he was had been a lie, a false self fabricated out of pride…. it had seduced him into one betrayal, which had led to another…. so now the sun was up, shining a merciless light on the truth of his character: he was a physical and moral coward.”

The Professor, a mysterious figure helping prosecute the action against the cartel, is “a moral athlete who for years had hopped from one side of the law to the other…”. The humor is often dark and sardonic. As a character describes The Professor: “I don’t know much about you, Señor Whoever, but I do know one thing: If there was such a thing as a four-sided fence, you could stand on all four sides at once.”.

The Professor goads Timothy into a series of ill-advised actions, compromising his vows as a priest, and Timothy is forced to figure out who he really is, and to see if he can gain redemption.

Some Rise by Sin reads as fiction, but the brutality of the real cartels makes this novel thinly disguised non-fiction, and in fact the back cover says “inspired by real events”. It reminds me a great deal of Robert Stone’s Outerbridge Reach, also loosely based on actual events and equally tragic.

While I don’t find Some Rise by Sin quite as compelling or thought-provoking as, say, Crossers, which I simply could not put down, it’s a fine work. It has any number of memorable characters and the writing flows well. While the plot has its interests, this is fundamentally an internal novel, exploring Timothy’s struggles with his faith. If you like Caputo, you’ll want to read this. If you have not read him, I suggest starting with Crossers — if that appeals to you, you’ll enjoy this as a followup.