Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review: 'Baby Love' by Ronald Argo (Edited by Jackson C.C. Percival)

‘Somewhere in the boiling desert heat, as cruel death came to six immigrants, a baby has gone missing.’

Four years ago this reviewer wrote the following about the astonishingly fine author Ron Argo: ‘The festering wound of the Vietnam War (1959-1975) will likely never heal - nor should it. That unconscionable war devastated a land with napalm and bombs, brutally murdered countless citizens and soldiers, marked deep indelible scars on the bodies and minds of those who returned, and remains a source of sorrow over fifty years later. Georgia-born Ron Argo captured that war through a journalist's eyes as he served in the days of the Tet Offensive of 1968 and recreated the horrors he observed and felt in his brilliant novel YEAR OF THE MONKEY, originally published in 1989 and now placed before our collective conscience in the Kindle format. His book falls in line with the finest of novels about Vietnam by such esteemed writers as Neil Sheehan (America in Vietnam), John Paul Vann (A Bright Shining Lie), Tim O'Brien (The Things They Carried), Tobias Wolff (In Pharaoh's Army), Bao Ninh (The Sorrow of War) and Philip Caputo (A Rumor of War). This reader, also in Vietnam at the same time, first encountered Argo's book (as well as the others) while publishing 'War Songs' - very soon after Argo's book was first published. The impact was and is a tattoo. Re-reading it now, in this format, brings the experience thought healed to the forefront, and it is hopeful an even wider audience will step into the Vietnam War as Ron Argo so deftly paints it.’

And in addition to that superb book Ronald has worked as a psych-ward aide, photographer, journalist and author of THE SUM OF HIS WORTH, THE COURAGE TO KILL and now BABY LOVE. Though this current novel is listed as an International mystery and crime suspense novel (and that it is most assuredly) it also happens to be very current during the current malfeasance of our ‘border laws’ and immigration issues. Ron has the ability to take history (or in this case, ‘presence’) and blend that with characters that appear to be relating a mystery tale that is for entertainment. Yes, the book is excellent reading, but it is far more than that as the reader will discover.

Ronald paints his canvas of action well – ‘California’s Imperial Valley along the Mexican border - November 2003 - Myers didn’t see the buzzards. Carol Finley did. Finley would, she had the artist’s eye. “Over there, eleven o’clock,” Finley said, one hand pointing, the other blocking the sun. “See them?” Myers couldn’t see anything but heat waves through the sweltering desert haze. He gave it another shot and narrowed his eyelids to slits, now making out a salvo of pinpoints on an otherwise vacant sky. On his own, he would’ve left it as floaters from a hangover. “Take a look?” Myers said and edged back toward the car. “C’mon.” “I’m not out here to shoot some stinking animal carcass.” Myers bent a smile. “Sure, you say so.” His crooked grin didn’t change while he waited for her to gather her senses. The two of them were on assignment in this oven near the no-town of Ocotillo Wells, a barren wind-blown landscape beyond the last outpost of modern civilization. The section chief wanted a Sunday feature along the line of “fall hues in the desert.” Myers didn’t know squat about desert botany. He was a crime reporter. He was good at it. The assignment came directly from the managing editor, who’d been miffed at the veteran reporter’s “method of inquiry” into a police shooting. Since the homeless victim had been known to hallucinate but had no violent priors, Myers asked the officer involved why he hadn’t used mace or Tasered the perp, thrown a net over him, something less than lethal since he had no weapon. Maybe Myers’ tone had been a bit sarcastic, that was possible. The piece found print in one graph buried in the B section.’

The plot is complex and well populated with both multidimensional characters and twist and turns of events – ‘Maggie doesn't despair because she's 29 and still single, childless. If only ... As a former foster child and now baby peddler for a San Diego human smuggling outfit, Maggie's only wish is to raise enough money for a home to help orphans like herself. She can do it because she's the outfit's top salesperson, able to get the most reluctant client to fork over big money to adopt that baby. But her world abruptly unravels as her co-dependent, depressed dad is killed and her latest shipment of babies gets kidnapped at the border in a terrible massacre of their caretakers. Most compelling of all, her boss find out she's skimming money and sends an enforcer around to settle things. Maggie Frazier is left with nothing to do but run off to Mexico. Meanwhile, veteran crime reporter Ray "Magic" Myers, who breaks the desert massacre story, is hot on the kidnapping angle and will connect the killing of Maggie's father to her, the missing babies, and the smuggling ring. The more Myers discovers about her dad's decades of failure trying to adopt his illegitimate child from war torn Vietnam, the more Myers, a vet himself, is locked on helping Maggie find the abducted babies. None of this comes without a toll on Myers, however, and he will get fired after 20 years with the paper, be sucker-punched by a bad cop, thrown in jail, later stabbed and even later shot. Myers and Maggie make an unlikely pair in a desperate rescue attempt for the infants. They tenaciously follow a deadly path through the seamy nighttime streets of Ensenada and into the Baja badlands of ancient Indian land, places where both come to face the greatest challenges of their lives.’

Another brilliant book by an author who understands the flaws and values of the human spirit and action. Highly Recommended. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.