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The Devil Takes You Home


The Devil Takes You Home

A grieving father’s desperate choice leads to unexpected --- and disturbing --- consequences in Gabino Iglesias’ unsettling, atmospheric new novel, THE DEVIL TAKES YOU HOME.

Mario has spent his whole adult life struggling to claw his way out of poverty. But the trappings of success that many Americans take for granted are elusive. Despite a college education and a job at an insurance company, money is a constant source of strain for him and his wife, Melisa. “Most of the fights had to do with money,” Mario recalls.

Mario and Melisa’s financial problems only get worse when their beloved four-year-old daughter, Anita, is diagnosed with cancer. She’s “a truly fascinating case,” one clueless doctor tells the devastated couple. Translation: She needs experimental --- and expensive --- treatment. Mario already has been fired for taking too much time off because of Anita’s illness. A job search turns up nothing. “If your name has too many vowels, getting a job is ten times harder,” the justifiably cynical father observes. With his options dwindling, he turns to Brian, a former coworker turned methhead, who has offered him a risky but well-paying gig as a hitman.

"Iglesias...manages to repeatedly shock with a number of vivid encounters both real and supernatural as the three men travel back and forth across the porous U.S.-Mexican border."

Mario has no criminal history or experience with guns --- nothing, in short, that would suggest he’d make a good contract killer --- but he takes to the job with surprising ease. Knocking off bad guys (even if he’s unaware of the exact nature of their crimes) gives him a measure of power and the ability to eke out justice in a world where it seems largely absent. But that can’t keep his personal life from spiraling out of control. When Brian proposes a risky but incredibly lucrative job that involves stealing from a Mexican drug cartel, Mario is at a personal low. After a bit of internal debate, he decides to take a huge risk in hopes of a major payday.

Iglesias has described his latest book as “barrio noir,” but narco-horror might be an equally apt term. There are hints of shadowy supernatural forces at work early on. After pulling the trigger in his first hit, Mario spots something strange rippling under the man’s skin. Later, he sees a vision of an old neighbor, who delivers an ominous warning. Things only get creepier when Mario and Brian hook up with Juanca, who has connected to the rival cartel that has ordered the hit on the other drug traffickers. They travel from Austin to Ciudad Juárez, stopping along the way to make an offering to Santa Muerte (“Saint Death,” a figure in Mexican folk religion) in a skin-crawling set piece.

Fair warning: Iglesias doesn’t shy away from bloody violence, and the creatively described gore may be off-putting to some readers. At one point, he describes an eviscerated man’s guts “reaching out into the night around him like a dropped garden hose.” At various points, the book recalls David Lynch, Cormac McCarthy and an old episode of “The X-Files.” It’s no wonder that a screen adaptation is already in the works.

Few readers will be surprised when the attack on the narcos in the remote New Mexico desert doesn’t go exactly according to plan. Or rather, according to what Mario thinks the plan is; Juanca has his own agenda that isn’t fully revealed until the book nears its end. There is a sense from the jump that Mario’s descent into the criminal underworld will end badly. But Iglesias nonetheless manages to repeatedly shock with a number of vivid encounters both real and supernatural as the three men travel back and forth across the porous U.S.-Mexican border. And as befits a novel set in the border region, the book frequently includes passages in (mostly) untranslated Spanish. Monolingual English readers will be able to follow along, though they may sometimes feel at sea, an effect that is surely intentional.

Some of the most memorable moments in THE DEVIL TAKES YOU HOME are of the otherworldly variety. A cartel leader in Juarez relies on a combination of crocodiles and witchcraft to deal with his enemies. The secret tunnels that link Texas and Mexico are inhabited by mysterious, threatening creatures of unclear origin. But the horrors in this book aren’t just supernatural. Mario is fighting entrenched racism and a broken health care system as much as he is fighting the actual devil (though perhaps they are all one and the same). The tone is often cynical, sometimes verging into nihilistic.

Through it all, though, there’s a glimmer of hope, however faint. Mario clings to the belief that this desperate plan will be enough to catapult him into a better life. “Maybe,” he thinks shortly before the book’s climax, “there were enough pieces left of what I’d broken to start again.”

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on August 26, 2022

The Devil Takes You Home
by Gabino Iglesias

  • Publication Date: August 15, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Noir, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316426717
  • ISBN-13: 9780316426718