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This isn’t my favourite book. It’s not by one of my favourite authors. But it is my favourite story. Let me tell you why.

But first, what do I mean by favourite story, as opposed to favourite book? I mean the narrative that plays out again and again, the one that lives inside you, the one that you don’t remember for the poetry of the writing but for the sheer thrill of reading it. The story you know is fiction but you believe it to be true anyway.

That kind of story.

This one feels like it’s real, as if the tale is biography rather than fiction.  Which, in a way, it is. That gives it an intimacy few can match. It’s one that broke boundaries for me as a reader. A tale in translation with a female protagonist set in several different countries hasn’t been my natural start point in the past; I guess that’s just a question of taste and a broadening of outlooks, but then it could also be said that this story helped me grow as a reader and as a person. (Is that too pretentious? Hang on in there. It’s a damn good read, too.)

It’s one I’ve read several times, in different situations, and it’s never let me down. That’s partly because the short prologue and the first chapter (titled I fell off the cloud I was riding) are both beginning and end. By the end of chapter one the reader sort of knows the story. So to read the remaining 450 to 600 or so pages (depending on which edition you’re holding) means you can sit back and absorb, without worrying about the outcome. As if the author has said ‘let me tell you what really happened,’ over a drink around a fireside, or on a Mediterranean terrace, and you, knowing the broad brushstrokes and the reported outcome, can settle in and listen, fascinated.

I’ve owned several copies of the book, from a signed first US edition to creased and suncream-marked paperbacks. Each time I lend one to someone it refuses to return, meaning that the story has grabbed someone else.

So, what’s it about?

It’s about Teresa Mendoza, girlfriend of a pilot to the narcos of Sinaloa, Mexico. And it has one of the best opening lines to any story, ever. Ever.

‘The telephone rang, and she knew she was going to die.’

If that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice then really, it’s going to be hard for us to be friends.

Even that comma, barely an ‘Oxford’ given the lack of information preceding it, is a thing of beauty. (I’ve spent a lot of time pondering that comma.) Here it’s an intake of breath, surely.

Teresa’s boyfriend, Güero Dávila, is a pilot, known as the King of the short runway, because he can get a plane full of cocaine off the ground in three hundred yards. Teresa knows what he does, and in the small town of Culiacán, what he does is about as glamorous as it gets for a girl looking for a way out of a poor life. She carries a special cell phone that Güero has given her, along with a warning: if it rings it means he’s dead and she’d better run, as they’ll be coming for her next.

And so Teresa runs. And in so doing, she becomes a legend. The Queen of the South.

Teresa Mendoza is one of the strongest, most engaging characters I’ve ever read and it’s hard not to put this story down without being a little bit in love with her. Despite the unlawful, immoral, dangerous things she does, you want to be her friend. You certainly don’t want to be her enemy. We follow Teresa across continents, from poverty to untold riches and back again, from beaches to prison, from the swankiest of hotels to travelling at crazy speeds in a dinghy across the Strait of Gibraltar, and we’re with her all the way.

It’s a story that knows its worth, that understands how riches are trappings but we’ll seek them anyway, how friendship and adventure have more value than anything material, how death is part of life. It’s the story that Arturo Pérez-Reverte was surely born to write. (I’ve read half a dozen of his books as a result of this one, a couple of which I’ve really enjoyed; some I haven’t and the works he’s most well-known for, the Dumas-inspired Captain Alatriste novels, aren’t really to my taste at all. But none of that matters.)

It’s a story that was due to be made into a movie starring Eva Mendes in the title role in 2008 and then never happened. It’s currently a TV series in the US, now in its third season and starring Alice Braga.

Pah. The story in this book is bigger than any TV show could do justice to. Until this is a major movie event starring Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro it should remain on the page. (At least they were two of the people I saw as characters in the story from the outset.)

I urge you to read this story. Read it if you like tales that take you to places you’ve never been to, if you believe there’s more to life than simply good and bad, if you want to read about one of the most incredible women ever to grace the page.

Read it, and be amazed.



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Shallow Creek contains twenty-one original horror stories by a chilling cast of contemporary writers, including stories by Sarah Lotz, Richard Thomas, Adrian J Walker, and Aliya Whitely. Told through a series of interconnected narratives, Shallow Creek is an epic anthology that exposes the raw human emotion and heart-pounding thrills at the the genre’s core.

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From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.

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