The Queen of the South
By Elizabeth Marshall
The Queen of the South by Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte is a fast-paced, well-written novel that plunges the reader into the world of multinational narco trafficking. The New York Times compared Pérez-Reverte’s thriller to those of Frederick Forsyth, “… [which] give the impression of being distanced from reality only by the slim but crucial margin that he won’t need to call his lawyer after publication.”
Pérez-Reverte is a former war reporter, and his immaculate research takes the reader along with a young Teresa Mendoza, Queen of the South. After the murder of her lover, Güero, in Culiacán, Mexico, Mendoza is forced to flee the country for southern Mediterranean shores.
With only a sixth-grade education, she has an amazing, innate skill for crunching numbers and playing the odds. Once settled, she starts a new life as a barmaid in a local Spanish cantina. There, she meets and falls in love with Santiago Fisterra, a handsome drug runner with whom she makes drug runs across the sea.
When he, too, is killed, Mendoza assumes control of his trafficking business. Excited by the challenges that face her, she vows never again to lean on anyone else.
When Mendoza lands in jail, she shares a cell with Patty, a rich, well-educated woman who has a ton of high-grade cocaine hidden in the outside world. Once released, the two women retrieve the cocaine, and Teresa parlays it into a worldwide drug transportation empire whose profits are deposited offshore.
The super-powered speedboat chases across the Mediterranean are mesmerizing. “The wind … was wet and cutting. Teresa zipped up the life jacket and pulled on a wool cap; she tucked her hair, which was whipping into her eyes, under it … Once in a while she raised her face, looking for the menacing shadow of the helicopter against the cold lights of the stars.” One can’t help but fall in love with Mendoza’s character. She is brave, canny, smart, and faces fear with an indomitable spirit and courage. As the penultimate antihero, she is perfect. Throughout the book, the action is intermixed with lines from Mexican Corridos, and Mendoza becomes a song of legend unto herself.
Twelve years after fleeing Mexico, Mendoza is snared into a witness protection program. She then returns to Mexico to testify against the leader of a powerful drug cartel with high political aspirations.
How much of this novel is fact and how much is fiction? The Internet hits for more information on Teresa Mendoza are numerous. I highly recommend The Queen of the South as a must read. Each reader can sift the “facts” for themselves. The book is available at La Biblioteca under the call # FIC PER.