Sunday, June 9, 2024

Guest Review: EL FLAMINGO

EL FLAMINGO by Nick Davies (2023)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

With no role in sight and nothing to lose, actor Lou Galloway leaves Los Angeles and heads to Mexico to drown his sorrows in cheap mezcal. But, after a round too many, he soon ends up at a grandiose wedding in the mansion of internationally wanted crime lord, Diego Flores, where Lou is mistaken for a rogue assassin known simply as El Flamingo. 

Before he can escape, he meets Maria-Carla, an enigmatic beauty with incredible perfume, and he inconveniently falls in love at first sight. When it becomes too late to turn back, Lou is swept into the dangerous world of Latin-American espionage, embarking on a journey that will take him from the desert fiestas of Mexico to the jungle-clad salsa bars of Colombia. To survive, Lou is forced to do the one thing he swore he would never do again-act.

However, as Lou assumes the identity of El Flamingo, he realizes that this may be what he was searching for all along. Maybe this was fate? Maybe this will be the role of his life!

Lou Galloway has given up his Hollywood dream and taken off for Mexico – where he falls into a whirlwind adventure, acting out the role of a lifetime. With a magic realism start, a Narcos middle, and a [no spoilers] ending, El Flamingo is a joyous ride.

From a deserted beachside bar in “Playa del something-or-other” to the jungles outside of Cali, Colombia, El Flamingo keeps the reader in what will be, for many, territory familiar from American movies and TV shows. And Lou’s lines in part coming from scripts makes the reader even more at home.

“Who would’ve thought acting was a superpower?” This book is a tribute to the noble profession of acting, of getting into a role and effectively selling yourself – in Lou’s case as El Flamingo, an enigmatic hitman. As you read El Flamingo you question whether everyone around Lou is also just playing a role – and whose side each is on: “Had I shaken hands with God? Or done a deal with the Devil?”

There is a nice meta level to Lou’s narration advising the reader at one point that they are reading “A mystery, a thriller, and now, a romance. At least for tonight”. But due to Lou not being sure what’s happening, the reader keeps guessing what the next twist will be – and this reader at least was continually surprised by the plot twists.

References to Don Quixote abound – was Quixote a fool or a hero? And which is Lou? 

“Somehow, I’d become an utterly unreadable man, all down to the fact that no one was more confused about the whole thing than me.” This self-deprecation is what keeps the reader engaged, and also rooting for Lou in his newfound mission to decidedly be a hero – yet concerned about his confidence to follow through – “As it always does, the coffee began to raise my over-all level of intelligence.”

There are some fabulous scenes in the novel, a novel that would make a great movie – there is the dance in a salsa bar in a rainforest, Maria-Carla singing in the El Jaguar Cantante, the demonstration of what can be done with a single playing card or a bottle of expensive bubbles, and that surreal moment early in the piece when Lou enters a lavish party out in the middle of nowhere – “a gringo idiot in a cheap Hawaiian shirt.”

The plotting of El Flamingo is superb apart from one major coincidence the plot hinges on, requiring a regular influx of failed actors into Mexico. Aside from this, all is neatly explained, and after all “Sometimes, even in Mexico, an extra sombrero is too much to ask”. I just loved reading this book!

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving former librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

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