That plot engages, but the novel’s heart is in its inspired portraiture of the characters populating this milieu, chief among them occasional narrator, the youngest son of Allen County’s Mendoza family, and his older brothers, both of whom are serving in Vietnam. As that narrator comes of age in fractious times, playing baseball and feeling rite-of-passage humiliation at a school dance, he bears witness to the ways that war ravages the older men in his life, especially his brother, Curtis, who comes home with an out-of-nowhere wife and terrifying addictions. Flores, Jr., connects those changes to the trauma endured by older veterans, too, illuminating generational cycles of violence and abuse. Here’s a story of men and murder, legacy and secrets, that plumbs the depths of why its characters might be moved to violence.
First-person passages alternate with the perspectives of characters from varied backgrounds, exploring the workings, justice system, and deep-rooted inequities of Allen County, while newspaper clippings and other surprises (prayers, a confessional, letters to and from soldiers) offer crucial context. Lean prose touched with grace keeps the pages turning, even as In the Shadow of the Sun takes more pages laying groundwork than is typical for the genre.
Takeaway: Borderland California 1960s thriller with an incisive eye to history and power.
Comparable Titles: Ruchika Tomar’s A Prayer for Travelers, Attica Locke.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: B