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.
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.