Teresa Mendoza's boyfriend is a drug smuggler who the narcos of Sinaloa, Mexico, call "the king of the short runway," because he can get a plane full of coke off the ground in three hundred yards. But in a ruthless business, life can be short, and Teresa even has a special cell phone that Guero gave her along with a dark warning. If that phone rings, it means he's dead, and she'd better run, because they're coming for her next. Then the call comes ...
The book opens with a bang as Teresa Mendoza, learns of the death of her boyfriend who delivers shipments of drugs across the border. He has warned her that there could come a time when she has to drop everything and run, and this was that time. She starts to build a new life for herself in southern Spain but gets involved with another drug runner and soon finds herself accompanying him on his trips across the Strait of Gibraltar. The boyfriend is eventually set up as a patsy and he is killed. She is captured and goes to prison. While in prison she meets a woman who not only teaches her everything to survive prison, they also form a partnership and are able to recover a huge shipment of cocaine. Using this to build her power base, she soon is controlling much of the drugs that are moved between Morocco and Spain for eventual distribution throughout Europe. But coming full circle she eventually runs afoul of the Mexican drug cartels once again.
Lies, deception, violence, treachery and corruption are the frame upon which the life of Teresa Mendoza is based on. The story of how a small time narco’s girlfriend became the rich and powerful Queen of the South was quite the read. The book has been meticulously researched and at times there is simply too much information being laid out. I also had some difficulties with both too many characters to keep track of, and a lack of character definition. However, the story was so interesting that I was able to overlook these flaws and simply enjoy the book.
If the old publishing axiom is true, that the opening sentence can make or break a novel, then Arturo Perez-Reverte has nothing to worry about.
Long before The Da Vinci Code made cryptic mysteries popular, the Spanish author was mining the arcane to tremendous acclaim. Combining the historical passion of Umberto Eco with the intricate mystery sensibilities of Dashiell Hammett, readers were assured of byzantine mysteries of both captivating style and astonishing substance.
A painting of a chess match may solve a hundred-years old murder in The Flanders Panel. A long-sought-after missing chapter of The Three Musketeers leads to devil worship in The Club Dumas (later made into the supremely disappointing film The Ninth Gate).
Based on these past efforts, fans may be slightly frustrated with his latest, The Queen of the South. Abandoning his usual reliance on secret texts and ancient conspiracies, Perez-Reverte instead substitutes crime for mystery, venturing into James Ellroy territory with a tale of drug smugglers and codes of honour.
Yet while, on the surface, it seems a more sedate affair, Perez-Reverte is simply incapable of writing a bad novel. Exhaustively researched and penned in riveting prose (masterfully translated by Andrew Hurley), The Queen of the South quickly becomes a mystery of character, and an incisive glimpse at a world all the more terrifying for its realism.
‘The Queen’ is Teresa Mendoza, a Mexican from Sinaloa, where “dying violently was dying a natural death.” Evolving from unassuming moll into an enigmatic leader whose detached focus on her situation “was virtually mathematical, so unemotional it chilled the heart,” Teresa builds a Spanish criminal empire of power and cunning, while remaining a figure of intrigue to the nation.
Perez-Reverte marries the story of Mendoza’s rise with a journalist’s investigation into her past, resulting in a Citizen Kane-styled mixture of personal reminiscences and expert foreshadowing. Think Orson Welles’ classic by way of Brian DePalma’s Scarface, with a soupcon of The Count of Monte Cristo for exotic flavour.
As always, Perez-Reverte brings his worlds into being with unparalleled vigour. Teresa’s life, filled with possible treachery and unlikely allies, alive with music that venerates the criminal, is animated in a manner few can match. It is a place of hideous plausibility, where a remark such as “I’ll have his skin peeled off him in strips” is par for the course, and “overconfidence kills more people than bullets.”
Teresa herself is one of Perez-Reverte’s finest creations, a deeply complicated woman whose hidden depths of strength are unlimited. Much like Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s recent novel Eleven Minutes, The Queen is a portrait of a woman finding the centre of her self. Unlike Coelho’s exercise in superficiality, fortunately, Perez-Reverte never lets the story become a treatise on female empowerment, making sure both story and character are integral to each other.
Even for such a pre-eminent master, The Queen of the South is superlative. At once a marvellous character study and a fast-paced criminal thriller, this is Perez-Reverte at his best.
It was months after it came out when I finally decided to pick it up. (My problem, as a reader, is that I ALWAYS FINISH a book, no matter how bad or boring it is. Because I was never going to let the 8 bucks I spent on it -- go to waste.) So I was afraid I was going to be stuck with a book that would put me to sleep for weeks. I was WRONG.
Arturo Perez-Reverte has done it again! He has enthralled me with the story of Teresa Mendoza. She starts out as the girlfriend of Guero Davila, a small plane pilot who flew drug shipments between Colombia and the U.S. He is killed (in flashback) and her story begins when she flees Sinaloa.
Reverte's writing is riveting. He tells of her incredible rise in the world of drug trafficking . . . she finds love (of sorts)again with Santiago, a boat driver; fate, Edmond Dantes and a lost "treasure" finds her in the form of a wealthy prison inmate, Patty O'Farrell. Teresa leverages her new-found wealth into power among the drug traffickers. And there's more betrayal and tragedy. It just doesn't stop. Not a dull moment!
There's a subtle parallel to the novel called The Count of Monte Cristo but not much because while the Monte Cristo book is almost entirely about revenge, Teresa's story will end with a "settling of debts." In the most spectacular fashion.
I got particularly attached to her bodyguard--- Pote Galvez whose fate was almost poetic and gut-wrenching and a 3-hanky event.
Read the Song of Teresa! You won't regret it. I found myself using the colorful phrases that Teresa used . . . while I was reading. (Although I recommend not muttering it during a staff meeting. Thankfully my boss only knows German.)
But then the pace slows to a crawl. We learn the details of drug-running in the Mediterranean, the perils of the sea, the boredom of prison, and the slow and careful building of an empire. We read about friendship and betrayal, the logistics of transporting kilo upon kilo of hashish and cocaine, the international cooperation among crooks that makes illegal drugs such a huge industry. It’s like reading a treatise on the drug trade. The prose remains lovely, but the momentum is lost, and soon it becomes easy to put the book down and hard to pick it up.
Why this should happen is bewildering, as at base this is the story of a woman’s rise to the top of the drug trade, becoming an ardent reader and an excellent businesswoman along the way. One would think such a story would be inherently interesting, especially because one grows to like Teresa a good deal despite her choice of profession – an authorial feat in itself. Perhaps the problem is one of translation, either of language or of culture, as Perez-Reverte is Spanish and writes in that language.
Or perhaps it is because Perez-Reverte chooses to use a framing device that fails altogether. Every now and then, Teresa’s story is interrupted by the maunderings of a reporter who is researching an article on Teresa, supposedly to culminate in an interview with her. These digressions recount his research seeking to interview Teresa, describing his interviews with key figures in Teresa’s life along the way. No information is conveyed in these passages that could not have been woven into the plot directly, and the reporter’s conclusion is unsatisfactory. This would have been a much tighter novel without the use of the frame.
Even so, the reader who slogs through the 200 pages of slow and careful character development and the interruptions of Perez-Reverte’s reporter is ultimately rewarded by a final 100 pages of sophisticated political dealing and a settling of old scores. The book once again becomes exciting, and one no longer feels the urge to put it down and not pick it up again.
Ultimately, this book is well worth reading. But the reader should make sure to approach it with expectations set to “mainstream literature” rather than “mystery” or “thriller.”
This story of the rise of a female drug-runner, told both from her perspective and that of an investigative journalist writing a book of her life, may show the author's past as a war journalist. One comes away from this book feeling that you truly know the milieu, the danger, the people and the motivations... and that likely a lot of the book is fact.
Pulls no punches.. and while a lot of it is exciting and suspenseful, it is also tense, disturbing, and often sad.
One of the best parts of reading is that it can truly open windows into other cultures, other perspectives - this book definitely succeeded in doing that for me.
Set in the 1980s, this is a sweeping story about endurance. Teresa was born into a world where there are few paths out of poverty. When fortune gave her a chance, she took it, though it eventually cost her dearly. Teresa was a fascinating character. She starts off relatively innocent. She’s not above doing a little weed now and then or getting drunk or having sex with her drug smuggling boyfriend. But she herself has nothing to do with the business. She still has her little job, is young, and just having fun. But once he’s killed and the narcos come after her (because they not only take out the man, but also his woman) she can either lay down and die, or pick up that handgun and even the playing field.
She makes it to Spain partly because she is smart and lies low but also because a friend owed her now dead man a favor. There she works at a seedy bar and has sworn off the drug smuggling life completely. That is until a Gaucho shows up and makes her heart flutter. Once again, she is pulled back into that world. However, this time she refuses to be an ignorant hanger-on. She makes it her business.
Every step she takes, she gets tougher. She’s really very practical about it all by the end, like nearly all the emotions have been wrung out of her through the years. It is an amazingly well done story arc. I so enjoyed watching her transformation. Her time in prison was especially interesting because it was filled with inner reflection and a sad humor, and books.
So obviously I am in love with Teresa Mendoza. Let’s talk about everything else. The plot, the pacing, the side characters, the sex – they too are also very well done. I loved all the Spanish and Mexican vocabulary and cultural references tossed in. I was never too sure where the plot was going, but I was thoroughly entertained and totally engrossed in finding out what would happen next.
The tale is told in two voices: Teresa’s and a reporter who is tracing her life for an in-depth biography. So sometimes we know that Teresa must have made it through some pinch because the reporter is talking to her or someone else about the incident in the past. Using the reporter character allowed us readers to see sides of Teresa or the collateral damage of her work that we wouldn’t see through Teresa’s eyes. It was clever. This was a very satisfying book and I look forward to enjoying more of Perez-Reverte’s works.
Narration: Lina Patel was the perfect voice for Teresa. She has a beautiful Mexican accent and I loved her fluid pronunciation of all the Spanish words, including the long strings of insults. She had distinct voices for male and female side characters as well.
Reviewed by: Karen K
Teresa Mendoza was a poor girl making a living changing money on the streets of Culiacan, Mexico. She was noticed by a man who flew drugs for several of the drug lords and became his girlfriend. Then one day she received a phone call that he had been killed and she knew she had to flee for her life. She ended up in Morocco where she became involved with another man who transported drugs. On one of their trips across the Straits of Gibraltar they were tracked by the Spanish. Teresa's boyfriend was killed and Teresa was put in prison. There she met a highborn Spanish woman who knew where a stash of cocaine had been hidden. When they got out of prison they used that as the stakes to start their own drug transportation ring. Lots of money was made but Teresa was always looking over her shoulder and expecting things to go wrong.
I find it distasteful to make someone who sells drugs (although Teresa never actually owns the drugs, she just transports them, a distinction that is made several times in the book) and lives outside the law a figure of approbation. I was not at all interested in how she built up her business and the details about the people she had killed were gruesome. The last 100 pages of the book were somewhat more interesting. As I was reading them I thought the story would translate into a movie well. It appears there is a movie that is due to be released in 2011 so obviously I'm not the only one who felt that way.
I think I'll be sticking to Perez-Reverte's historical fiction in the future.
The melding of fact and fiction was heightened for me when I tried to do some research on the web about the "real" Mendoza - only to find that the movie that was begun, based on the book was halted due to safety concerns for the cast and crew.
This book was definitely very different than Perez-Reverte's other books (at least the 2 I've read), but it is a fine, well-crafted book. And, again, although I don't believe the book glorifies the drug trade, you find yourself rooting for this woman who's learned in all of the hardest ways how to outman then men in this world, to think under pressure and to let no man or woman cause her to make a careless error. The enormity of how well she does this is revealed at the end of the book, and I found myself reviewing in my head many of the scenes that are affected by the secret she's kept for decades!
Brilliant book - although, because of the language and subject matter - much darker than his other books, which I often save for the summer when I really have time to sink into a book that portrays worlds far from the ones I travel in
The book had all the things I've come to love about Perez-Reverte's work: a fictionalized journalistic style, solidly written action with clearly drawn characters, and swashbuckling heros described with philosophical and literary allusions.
What I didn't expect (although I should have after the Club Dumas) was that the Queen of the South is a loving homage to The Count of Monte Christo. Perez-Reverte did not just copy the plot arc of Dumas Pere's classic. He wrote a love story to it. Each character is drawn with painstaking strokes to capture something essential about the archetype without slavishly copying or over-simplifying.
What Perez-Reverte does extraordinarily well is to choose his parallels so that they highlight central human characters and flaws that tie the 19th century romance with contemporary happenings. He also builds emotional weight slowly and without sentimentality or hyperbole. This allows him to pre-weight a scene with emotional impact and then deliver a terse, journalistic paragraph that merely states facts and yet breaks this readers' heart.