Sam Fahey, an ex-con and ex-surfer now running a worm farm, is tracking a pack of feral dogs in the Tijuana River Valley when he encounters a badly beaten Mexican woman stumbling across the dunes near Tijuana Straits, a legendary surf spot. But surfing is only a backdrop in Nunn's intense, beautifully written literary thriller; the novel's real subject is the lawless U.S.-Mexico border, and its real story revolves around three damaged lives: the Mexican refugee, an activist named Magdalena Rivera fighting for economic and environmental justice in industrial Tijuana; Armando Santoya, whose life spirals into a drug-fueled rage when his baby is poisoned by the toxic chemicals his wife works with; and Fahey himself, a fully realized antihero struggling to atone for his own troubled life. In a series of long flashbacks, Nunn relates their backstories—along with the painful history of a rugged chunk of the Southern California coast—setting the stage for a powerful, visceral denouement. The novel is an elegy of lost innocence, an exploration of the corrupting power of greed and progress on the land and the people, but its triumph is the complete integration of character and plot. This is a sad but deeply satisfying and intensely moving story. With this fifth novel, Nunn has written a terrific book that more than affirms the promise of his early work. Agent, Lynn Nesbitt. (Aug. 10)
Forecast: Nunn has a real cult following—he invented "surf noir" with Tapping the Source (1984), and his most recent novel, The Dogs of Winter (1998), also used surfing as its milieu—but he should also attract more general readers with this breakout effort.