By Bruce Kading
This fantastic debut novel takes the reader on a tour of the world of immigration, illegal immigrants, and the law enforcement people who work with them. It’s a story from an insider’s viewpoint that will stay with you long after you put it down.
Agent Nick Hayden is a new officer with INS, in a section called Area Control in Chicago. He has a mysterious motive that the reader gets clues about here and there, but we don’t see his secret revealed for some time. This builds up the tension well. The novel deals with the human side of immigration – the officers and the emotional side of their reactions to their jobs and the things they see, as well as the immigrants and their perspective. It is a timely novel and one that opens your eyes to the real-life complexity of the stories behind the headlines.
Over the course of the novel, Hayden goes through changes and has a sort of redemptive experience. Miguel plays a role in that redemption. Early in the book, Hayden’s training officer, Charlie McCloud, reminds him that he is dealing with human beings and that they deserve respect, something he says that many of the agents have lost. This becomes a central idea of the book.
Set in the 1980’s, the agents raid warehouses which employ a lot of illegal immigrants. They also investigate things like document fraud. First, Hayden gets paired up with Tom Kane, whose unorthodox methods are well known. Then, he gets partnered with Joe Willis, another man who does his own thing. He has what McCloud calls “gladiator syndrome.” The gladiator is a man who takes the job so seriously that he will overstep his authority and often get away with it. Eventually, he feels invincible. He takes the attitude home with him and his relationships suffer. McCloud advises Hayden that he can be more of a philosopher than a gladiator and it will benefit him a lot.
As Hayden gains more experience, he begins to find himself experiencing the gladiator syndrome. For him, the redemption comes when he realizes this and makes changes.
Miguel comes to American from Guadalajara after he finds that he can’t make enough money to support his family. He finds work in Chicago and obtains fake identification documents. The fake documents are apparently easily available and sold out of bars and street corners. These documents allow illegal immigrants to find employment, even though the managers of the warehouses all know they are fake. There is a big ring of document forgers at work in the area and it falls on the INS agents to investigate this.
The author is a former INS agent and knows the realities of the job. That knowledge shines through in his novel. The characters are all very realistic and portrayed in a believable manner. The reader can understand their motivations and the things that bother them. The plot moves along smoothly and interweaves with the subplot quite deftly. The reader comes away with a lasting impression of this novel. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about how immigration enforcement works from the inside, as well as anyone who enjoys police procedural novels.