BookBrowse Reviews The Convert's Song by Sebastian Rotella

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The Convert's Song

by Sebastian Rotella

The Convert's Song by Sebastian Rotella X
The Convert's Song by Sebastian Rotella
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2014, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2014, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Valentin Pescatore gets caught up in high-stakes campaign of terror when his childhood friend becomes the chief suspect.

Sebastian Rotella has succeeded in blending a rip-roaring international terrorism thriller with a thoughtful examination of the nature of friendship. Valentin Pescatore is a decent sort of guy who is currently working as a licensed private detective in Buenos Aires. He is an ex-United States border security guard who, not yet 30, seems too young to be an ex-anything. Well, at least it seems that way to someone who is on the other side of the senior citizen threshold. I mention his age because he has clearly not yet fully sorted out the friendship thing; especially his friendship with long time pal Raymond Mercer.

Valentin and Raymond grew up in my old stomping grounds, Chicago's South Side. I'm sure lots of neighborhoods the world over are similar, but I know that childhood bonds formed in those Windy City streets can be deep. The boys - Ray and Valentin - have parents who know each other and families that interact; they are first and second generation Americans with origins in the same countries. Beyond those likenesses though, the boys are cast from very different stuff. Valentin is, as I said, a decent sort. Ray – a man of many intentional aliases – is not. But he is far more complex than that: an accomplished musician with a photographic memory for names and movie trivia, and a whip smart wheeler-dealer.

On the one hand, "Ray was an encyclopedia. You always learned something if you listened." But then, "In conversation, he came off as if he was enjoying a private joke at your expense." Despite everything, though, Valentin loves and admires Ray for his intelligence and musical talent. "If I could sing like you, that's what I'd be doing. For money or for fun. But you treat it like it's a big joke. Like you treat everything." A true friend, Valentin is the only one who "talks straight" to Ray.

They parted ways a decade ago when Valentin literally walked away at the very moment Ray was set to stiff some dangerous thugs in a drug deal. Long story short, Ray did drugs, did time; Valentin went toward the side of law and order. And so when Valentin runs into Ray "by accident" at the Buenos Aires airport, he is overwhelmed by some seriously mixed feelings. But Ray is all bygones-be-bygones, water-under-the-bridge and so on because now he has found salvation in the Koran. He is a Muslim convert. They have a drink, exchange contact information. Within days, suicide bombers and gunmen destroy a Mall in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Two hundred people are dead, hundreds more are wounded. Valentin is witness to the carnage.

He is certain that his slippery old friend is involved, but how and how much? He embarks on a quest to find out - and to find Ray - because as suddenly as Ray appeared at the airport, he has disappeared. Friends no more? Well that is easier said than done, due to a plot twist that I won't spoil for you. Suffice it to say that the plot thickens as authorities release only the most simplistic explanations for the attack to the media, and as terrorist group alliances skate across national borders and religious lines with terrifying ease. All along the way the bond between the two men shifts this way and that, a flowing electrical current that both propels the story and serves as the real antagonist to Valentin as hero.

I'm sorry to admit I haven't read Rotella's first novel about Valentin Pescatore (Triple Crossing) because I would like to get to know this character better. It is the only – minor – flaw in The Convert's Song. Raymond Mercer is utterly so much more fascinating than the good guy. But then I always have had a soft spot for bad boys.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review is from the January 21, 2015 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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