Review: The Hot Country by Robert Olen Butler (4/5)

Thursday 18 September 2014
1914: War correspondent Christopher Marlowe ‘Kit’ Cobb arrives in Vera Cruz, Mexico, to cover the country's civil war. 

A passionate believer in the power of a free press and the moral superiority of the United States, Kit is no mere observer. He assumes a false identity to pursue German diplomat Friedrich von Mensinger en route to a meeting with revolutionary leader Pancho Villa, and the correspondent soon finds himself up to his neck in political intrigue. 

Along the way he's nearly shot by a mysterious sniper, joins forces with a double agent and falls in love with a headstrong young Mexican woman who may be mixed up in the revolutionary plot.

Having never heard of the author I was intrigued when I opened a package from Real Readers and found The Hot Country inside. Real Readers is almost like surprise book post because you don't know what you're getting until it arrives. I read the blurb and was left wondering whether it was my thing. Well, I'm all about taking chances on new genres and I'm so glad I did that with this book because it was really good.

Set in 1914 war correspondent Christopher Marlowe 'Kit' Cobb arrives in Mexico to cover the country's Civil War. Under a false identity he follows German diplomat Friedrich von Mensinger to a meeting with Pancho Villa and let's just say a whole can of worms is opened. He finds his life in danger more than once and becomes enamored with a Mexican woman who may not be all she seems... It's hard to say anything further than the blurb really safe to say it's a very enjoyable read.

The story reads like an action packed Hollywood blockbuster and I was on the edge of my seat (cliche I know) while those particular scenes were being played out quite vividly in my mind. Butler writes in such a way that the scenes do become incredibly lifelike in your mind, and with some heart stopping scenes in the book it's a very addictive and exciting read at times. That said it isn't until the latter sections of the book that it picks up, but for me that was a good thing as it meant there was a build up throughout the book so it made more of an impact and added a bit of suspense rather than it being non-stop action which would be unrealistic. On first glance the cover reminded me of a Western and there is elements of that throughout.

I'm often afraid reading books like this that they might be too clever for me yet Butler manages to write about the history, politics and the setting of the book without it feeling like a history lesson yet you still finish it like you've been taught something, or learnt something new. My knowledge of history is pretty terrible given I studied it at GCSE and I seem to have acquired more of a desire to learn about the past more now than I did when I was a teenager. It's clear the author knows what he's writing about, has researched it well and is no amateur so for me that makes the book extremely authentic and a whole lot more enjoyable.

Overall as someone who isn't a massive reader of this genre the book had me enthralled throughout, leaving me wanting to know more about this time in history and wanting to read more from Robert Olen Butler. He has created a fantastic protagonist in Kit and he's definitely somebody I'd love to read about again in the future. 

Thank you to Real Readers for the review copy. 

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