The Friends of Pancho Villa

James Carlos Blake, Author Berkley Publishing Group $13 (0p) ISBN 978-0-425-15304-8

""I loved the Revolution,"" says Rodolfo Fierro, the main character of Blake's new historical novel. ""It set free the man I truly am. It let me do what I do best as well as it can be done."" With these noble sentiments out of the way, Fierro gets down to what it is he does best: slaughtering--rich and poor, male and female. The ex-convict and train robber certainly was in the right place at the right time. During the roughly 10 years the Mexican Revolution tore across the land, it unleashed a human catastrophe unparalleled in that country since the Conquest. Fierro teams up early on in the action with Pancho Villa the bandit/revolutionary, one of the few who seem to revel in love as much as in death. He, for example, dislikes torturing prisoners, because it takes too long. ""The time you spend torturing a man is time you could spend dancing and making love,"" he tells Fierro, who has just witnessed fellow revolutionary Emiliano Zapata's followers roasting an old man to death. Blake (The Pistoleer) blends fact and fiction into one of the few novels that risk political incorrectness by frankly describing the murder, betrayal and deceit that turned a revolution against dictatorship into a civil war that cost the country nearly a third of its population and left psychological scars that last to this day. He deftly follows the political twists and turns that prod Villa to continue as a leader even after his beloved Francisco Madero--Mexico's first president after the dictator Porfirio Diaz--is brutally betrayed and killed by vying revolutionary factions. This is not for the faint of heart, but then, neither is revolution. (Aug.)