Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias

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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Zero Saints, in my humble opinion, is just that little bit better than Coyote Songs. I bloody loved Coyote Songs, but this one is just off the chain, crazy good!

Please don’t hit me in the face (I know Coyote Songs holds a special place in peoples hearts), or chop my fingers off and drop them into the bucket, I mean no disrespect it’s just my opinion.

And whilst we are on that subject… what the hell is in the BUCKET Gabino?

Tell me, I wan’t to know? Or do I? Or will it be like playing out the climactic scene in Se7en where Brad Pitt is screaming about wanting to know what’s in the box? We all know how well that turned out. So on second thoughts Gabino – you keep that dirty little secret and your bloody bucket!

Anyway I’ve gone totally off point, so let’s bring this back to the review.

Zero Saints is a brutal ride into the dark and gritty underbelly of Austin – a shit-kicking, whiskey drinking, nacho eating, no nonsense kind a place. A place that’s riddled with the lowest of the low, where immigrants find a way of life, where the wealthy keep the poor under the heel of their boot and a place where drug dealers thrive and addicts run rampant. It’s where hit men and enforcers mingle in dive bars and strip joints.

And now, this hellhole that is Austin is where a heavily-tattooed group of gangsters are hoping to make a name for themselves and have taken up residence, moving in like a cancer to chew this place up and shit out what’s left over.

‘The American dream is as false as the meat in your one-dollar burger and the canned laughter you hear on television.’

These gangsters are determined on taking over the local drug racket and will carve this landscape up and keep the lions share for themselves. They’ll take it by force if they have too, and these brutal gangbangers have something else on their side, which, might be a bit more than human.

Strap yourselves in for the ride of your life. Things are going to get bumpy and bloody, you’ll be thrown about at will and tossed through the windshield like a crash-test-dummy. This is a race for survival, where all bets are off and the winner takes all.

Zero Saints starts like an olympic sprinter out of the blocks, it’s fast, brutal and shows no signs of slowing down. Our protagonist Fernando is kidnapped by a bunch of gangbangers and taken to a dingy part of town in the boot of a car, it’s one hell of an introduction to our protagonist, the voice of Fernando is brilliant and pulls the reader right in. He’s pulled out of the car and taken into what appears to be an abandoned house, where he has to witness a friend being tortured and then beheaded. It’s brutal, grotesque and sets the tone for all the crazy that’s about to be unleashed on the reader.

Did I mention that there’s also a bucket. I can hear you saying, ‘Ross, give it a rest about this bucket‘ but I can’t. These gangbangers tear and saw and pull pieces off the man they’re torturing, and one-by-one they deposit these offerings into a bucket. As the morsels of flesh fall in, there’s the splat but it’s then followed by an audible crunch. It’s only a subtle thing, something that has no relevance on any of the narrative that follows, but like an itch you can’t scratch it stayed with me through the whole damn book. It’ll stay with you too, mark my words. I still hear it in my nightmares…

Gabino’s prose is on fire in this book, it’s unflinching as you would expect (it’s one of the reasons I love his work), it’s also beautifully poetic and masterfully woven together, there’s gorgeous work on similes and metaphors that at times had me salivating with its brilliance. There’s one piece of writing in particular that really blew me away, it’s just absolutely stunning (page 117) it’s just masterful.

‘Sometimes the best thing that happens to other people is an unloaded gun.’

Gabino Iglesias is the Puerto Rican Bukowski – it’s a bold statement but one that I stand fully behind. Gabino’s work on broken characters is reminiscent of the master himself, it is as if Bukowski were guiding Iglesias’ pen whilst writing the scintillating Zero Saints. The prose and narrative in Zero Saints can also be compared to the bleakness, grittiness and utter thrill ride that was Cormac McCarthy’s ‘No Country For Old Men’.

Gabino Iglesias is elbowing his way into that bracket of writers that I just can’t get enough of, he’s rubbing shoulders with greatness… so he best pull up a chair and make himself comfortable, because on this form (and Coyote Songs) I think he’ll be sticking around for a while.

Zero Saints is a freight train derailment of a book and one that truly leaves its mark on the reader, hardboiled crime with a huge slice of horror. Brilliantly brutal and utterly engrossing.

Zero Saints is published by Broken River Books and is available here.

Gabino Iglesias

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, editor, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of COYOTE SONGS, ZERO SAINTS (both from Broken River Books), and GUTMOUTH (Eraserhead Press). He is the book reviews editor at PANK Magazine, the TV/film editor at Entropy Magazine, and a columnist for LitReactor and CLASH Media. His nonfiction has appeared in places like The New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the LA Times, El Nuevo Día, and other venues. The stuff that’s made up has been published in places like Red Fez, Flash Fiction Offensive, Drunk Monkeys, Bizarro Central, Paragraph Line, Divergent Magazine, Cease, Cows, and many horror, crime, surrealist, and bizarro anthologies. When not writing or reading, he has worked as a dog whisperer, witty communications professor, and ballerina assassin. His reviews are published in places like NPR, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Criminal Element, The Rumpus, Heavy Feather Review, Atticus Review, Entropy, HorrorTalk, Necessary Fiction, Crimespree, and other print and online venues. He teaches at SNHU’s MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

Review by Ross Jeffery

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