When building contractor Julia Kalas discovers a male body stuffed in a coffin-sized hole under some floorboards in a farmhouse she is restoring, she braces herself for trouble. Originally from California, Julia and her husband ran a money-laundering outfit. They were attacked by a skinhead gang and Julia’s mate was killed. After turning state’s evidence and testifying against the gang members, Julia was put into the federal witness protection program and relocated to Azula, Texas. Ultimately, her cover was blown and her new identity exposed. She lived in fear that gang members would find her.
In Minerva Koenig’s follow-up to Nine Days, (South of Nowhere, Minotaur Books, February 2016, ISBN 9781250051950), Julia’s search for the dead man’s killer takes her through south Texas to a bariatric clinic in Ojinaga, Mexico. Flush with over $50,000 from witness protection and working with a private detective, she maneuvers through a labyrinth of deception and evil and unearths an illegal human smuggling operation. Julia’s trek through northern Mexico provides the impetus for her to reconnect with her past love-interest, Hector. When she and Hector embark on a dangerous journey onto the Tohono O’odham reservation deep in the Arizona Sonoran desert, Julia reunites with her alcoholic mother with whom she has been estranged for many years.
“I’d forgotten how small she was, and she’d shrunk a little with age, so that the top of her head now only reached about earlobe height on me. At five-two on a good day, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I knew who had to look up to me. There was some gray in her dark hair that wasn’t there last time I’d seen her, but her eyes were still like live coals in her expressionless face, full of appetite and uncertainty.”
Despite their flaws, Koenig’s outside-the-box characters are believable and likable. Julia must deal with dissociative episodes and recurring feelings of suffocation that interfere with her ability to sniff out the bad guys and Hector is incapable of faithfulness to a single lover. Both are willing to step over a moral line, if only for a moment. The author’s powerful and meticulously crafted narrative arc guides the reader through an unpredictable, action-packed drama that holds up to the scrutiny of the most discerning reader.
For bibliophiles who love to be kept in suspense and who appreciate surprise endings, “South of Nowhere” will keep you guessing. One word of advice—don’t start it in the evening unless you’re willing to sacrifice a night’s sleep.