Alejandro “Alex” del Fuerte, fresh out of law school, is returning home to South Texas, ready to open his solo practice, humble as it may be.
He’s got dreams of making his mark in the world and
in the courtroom. But when he meets Porfirio “Pilo” Medina, who just crossed the border in search of his wife and son, Alex is suddenly dragged into a world of wrongdoings and political pay-offs
rarely covered in law school.
Rampant corruption and big-money politics are set against the rich backdrop of border culture, with its distinctive way of life and unique perspective. And Alex, something between saint and sinner, is an apt guide to both the light and dark sides of the region.
5.0 out of 5 stars Verdict on The Case Runner, November 20, 2010
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This review is from: The Case Runner (Hardcover)There is so much I like about The Case Runner! First of all, it's an engaging story--which is most important of all. I read the book in just two days because it was hard for me to put it down. I wanted to know what happened, in the end. (It's the same way for me when I read a John Grisham story.)
In addition, being from South Texas as I am, having grown up in the Valley, and having lived in Brownsville, Rio Grande City, Weslaco, and Harlingen, I am thrilled to have Mr. Cisneros put this place on the (mystery novel/literary) map, so to speak. It's exciting to read in a book of a particular street, building, or restaurant, for example, that one knows first-hand; there's a kind of pride of place, and intimacy, for some of us from this place to read about it in a novel. (It's the same way for me when I read an Helena Maria Viramontes short story placed in Los Angeles.)This is especially true for those of us who are hyphenated Americans. What a joy to see how the publishing world is (apparently) changing, and to know that someone like Cisneros can use the appropriate Spanish word, and illustrate a familiar value inherent in the Mexican-American, or at least tejano/mexicano, South Texas community--in short, what a joy that someone like Cisneros can write ourselves, we of this community, into a published work, in a genre in which we are rarely represented. A note of context may help for those who don't understand: People of my generation, for example, may remember having graduated from high school, here in California at least, never having read anything by, for, or about Latinos/Chicanos/Mexican Americans. (What message do you think that sends to a young aspiring Chicana writer?)
To read a book by a Mexican-American, someone from the borderlands, about a Mexican-American lawyer--and a hero at that--engaged in helping his community (instead of reading any number of other stereotypical ways in which we are typically portrayed) feels revolutionary, if not subversive, to some of us. (I suppose that for many of us who know more than we want to about them, it is equally revolutinary to read of and be convinced that an attorney, or judge, can have integrity, or that an "ethical lawyer" is not an oxymoron....) As a professor of literature and composition, I read/studied the literature of all of the "dead white males" in college, whom I very much enjoyed, I might add--and, I am glad to see our canon of literature opening up/becoming more inclusive of other authors, like Carlos Cisneros. (Again, anyone who doesn't understand the history/context of the publishing of "minority" authors, may not get my point.) A very good story, is a very good story--and it shouldn't matter the ethnicity of the person writing it (but, sadly, it has mattered, historically, in the publishing world).
Cisneros tells a very good story, a page turner, really, that many can appreciate--that its setting is South Texas, involving people like me (not in any way one of the powerful or wealthy), who rarely find their way into published novels, portrayed in a heroic/positive light, is just "icing on the cake," as far as I'm concerned. I am so glad Carlos Cisneros won the Edward James Olmos/California State University, Los Angeles Latino Book Festival first place award for the category/genre of mystery novels! He well deserves it.
What I like most of all about The Case Runner is that it is instructive; more specifically, it exposes the illegal shenanigans that our many sin verguenzas--the politicians, lawyers, judges, and powers-that-be (on both sides of the border)--both engage in and profit from. Some of us, through first-hand experience, have had a glimpse into how our American legal system very often "works" (or doesn't work), and have lamented that we, "the little people" can do little about "fighting city hall," or any other such Goliath with its mammoth connections. I very much appreciate that someone like Cisneros, who knows what he's writing about, has taken the time to unveil even more of what goes on behind the wizard's curtain that we, who are not lawyers and so not privy to that world, know very little about. When one can't win in court, because of the rampant corruption found there, one can at least feel some semblance of justice and gratitude--some hope!--to know that the story, at least, can still be told, and the corruption exposed, and that others can learn from the story being told. The story, and its circulation, can eventually be more powerful than even the institution. The story is the thing.
Cisneros tells the story of what I presume (not being a lawyer) is yet another one of America's dirty little secrets--that of unethical "case running" by morally bankrupt attorneys, and judges, who sell their souls for a buck. (Personally, I am more familiar with the corruption/dirty little secrets found in our American educational institutions....) Like many, I loved, and could relate to, what the main character, Alex, eventually discovers and states: "I get out of law school and come to find out that I'm working with worms. You can understand my disappointment." (Don't tell me you haven't felt the same about your own profession....) The quote speaks to the demise of that elusive American Dream again. How massively disappointing--after all the student loans, with interest, the long hours making it through school, the sacrifices, to discover this!
The Case Runner ought to be required reading by every insurance lawyer in the business. In the same way that I think that had "the smartest guys in the room" read more Shakespeare they might have learned a thing or two about hubris (before their own hubris made for their downfall)--so too might a few chueco attorneys, and judges, learn a thing or two about the consequences of corruption from Cisneros' The Case Runner. (As one who believes in the ability of literature to instruct/impart wisdom, I say: one can only hope.)
Cisneros has written the book I wish I had written--about much of yet another American institution (education) that is equally problematic and inclusive of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'll have to study his novel in order to write mine. Cisneros has certainly inspired me! I want to say to Mr. Cisneros what Naivi, in The Case Runner says to Alex: "You gave me hope" and "motivated me"--not to go to law school, but rather to write my novel of exposure (318). Thank you!
I look forward to using Cisneros' book in my college reading and writing classes. I think they will love it!
Susana de la Peña, Ph.D.