Friday, November 10, 2006

The Concrete Maze by Steven Torres

Steven Torres was kind enough to send me a pre-ARC of his upcoming novel, THE CONCRETE MAZE, due out by Dorchester Publishing in July 2007. He did this after taking a look at one of my short stories. This is how nice Steven is: after he does you a favour, all he asks is that you allow him to do you another.

He may be nice, but the subject matter of THE CONCRETE MAZE isn't. More and more, it seems to be the novel that everyone wanted him to write. Darker and more concentrated than his PRECINCT PUERTO RICO series, the new novel is set in the Bronx, New York. Like his other books, it still revolves around a Puerto Rican community, but in this case it centers on a single family.

Seen through the eyes of young Marc Ramos, it starts off as a search for his cousin, led by ex-Vietnam uncle, Tio Luis ('Tio' means 'uncle'). Marc is dragged along, losing plenty of sleep, as Tio Luis searches for his daughter Jasmine, who it seems has got herself mixed up with the wrong crowd. Not a hard thing to do in the Bronx.

I told you the novel was darker, so don't be surprised when things turn from frustrating to tragic as the novel progresses. Without spoiling it for you, a particular scene about half way through had me physically choking up with emotion. I can't think of a novel that's made me feel this strongly in a long time.

Issues of racism and prostitution underpin the story, but at its core, the novel is about family.

Torres has an innate grasp of what it is to be part of a family. The loyalty and determination of the main characters, the nurturing mothers, the extension of cousins, aunties and uncles, all of this is easy to relate to. Especially if, like me, you have grown up in a European family. The values seem the same, and while this novel gave me a better appreciation of Puerto Rican culture, Steven's talent here is to make it universal.

Steven worries that he wrote one of his other novels, MISSING IN PRECINCT PUERTO RICO, with anger, and that this may not be the best way to get a message across. If that novel is his angry one, I can't wait to read it.

That scene will stay with me for a long time.


Anonymous said...

So far I've only read the first Precinct Puerto Rico book. I thought it kicked ass, and I can't wait to read Steven's other novels.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Hey, me too. But now that I've read two of his books, I really have to make a dent in the pile of other authors. But yes, I'm officially a fan.

Anonymous said...

There's the problem: so many good crime authors out there right now and only so much free time for reading. An embarrassment of riches isn't a bad problem to have, though.

anne frasier said...

ooh, i'm definitely interested. i read some of steven's short fiction and loved it, so i'm looking foward to the concrete maze.

anne frasier said...

and WOOT on the word count!!!

Sandra Ruttan said...

I feel like I'm missing great chunks of Steven Torres news. I thought MIPPR was coming out in 2007, and what's this? This book is with a new publisher?

I'm so confused.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Anne, you'll definitely enjoy it. Just go beg Torres for a copy. :)

It's true, Sandra. Two books, two release dates, two publishers.

Hey that's not a bad tagline. Now all it needs is a monkey and a female robot hell bent on revenge.

Steven said...

"Now all it needs is a monkey and a female robot hell bent on revenge."

Actually, I'm writing that one for yet another publisher...

The Concrete Maze is a very noir type novel and the scene that choked up Daniel is taken from real life - my mother's best friend had this happen to her son. Since it's a plot twist, I can't say more.