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In The Shadow Of The Sun
Set in a small southern California town during the tumultuous 1960s, a green beret returning from Vietnam is accused of murdering a wealthy scion. At the time of his death, the victim was completing a million-dollar trust document that is missing. Both the document and murder are at the heart of the novel. Led by two brilliant attorneys, the defendant's PTSD is raised to garner sympathy from potential jurors. Narrated from the eyes of the soldier's younger brother, the book is also a coming-of-age for the narrator filled with humor, nostalgia, and tension.
Sweeping, surprising, and alive with wide-ranging empathy and sociocultural insight, this slow-burn thriller—the debut from Flores, Jr.—surveys, from the vantage point of the late 1960s, the complex history of fictional Allen County, a stretch of borderland California transformed, by the “will, sweat and blood … of Okies, Mexicans, Filipinos, Chinese, Italians, Portuguese, Swiss, southern Blacks, hustlers, cattle thieves” and more “to one of the richest farmlands in the world.” The mystery, when it eventually comes, centers on issues of who actually owns land and water, as the scion of the wealthy Allen family considers bequeathing his expansive estate to charity, much to the chagrin of many interested parties, including a robustly corrupt sheriff who quotes John Wayne while shaking down motorists.

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.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B


numerous reviews on Amazon including editorial reviews and Kirkus