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Alfredo Corchado
Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness
The Penguin Press / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-594-20439-5
Publication Date: 05-09-2013
286 Pages; $27.95
Date Reviewed: 09-08-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Non-Fiction  General Fiction  Mystery

Perhaps it's just proximity, though I'm hardly close to the border. But to me, the goings-on in Mexico over the last decade have grown increasingly alarming. Even more alarming is the seeming complacency with regards to the war next door here in the United States. Our newscrash is chock full of everything and everywhere but there. Halfway around the world gets a 24/7 red-letter alert. Half an hour drive over the border hardly merits a sideline. To be honest, I've just been wondering what the heck exactly is going on in Mexico, where a near-constant bloodbath is the accepted way of life.

Alfredo Corchado answers that question and many more, and manages to thrill the hell out of readers in his journalistic memoir 'Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness.' Corchado tells his story in the first person with good reason, beginning with a 2007 death threat issued against him for his work writing for the Dallas Morning News. The news comes to him from a trusted American source. His last story about the connection between the cartels and the deal brokered by the government has drawn their ire. His life is in danger and he needs to get out of Mexico now. For Mexican journalists, threats — and death — are an accepted, or at least understood part of the job. But Corchado is an American citizen, the son of a bracero. The cartels are entering a new territory.

What follows is an intense and passionate tale of identity, national and personal. Corchado's story is dark, dense and riven through with history; his own and Mexico's. He creates a large but well-drawn cast of real characters and takes readers through his life and recent Mexican history in a manner that makes perfectly clear who the players are, what their goals are and why violence is so often the first and last answer.

'Midnight in Mexico' plays out like a thriller told in the first person. It's easy to read and hard to put down as Corchado finds himself under fire and takes us back through his life and that of Mexico to explain how he and Mexico got there. Corchado's life unfolds in several parallel layers, each upping the ante and the tension. But, as the main character in his own book, he's smart enough to give us the full context we need to understand why he is willing to stay as a foreign correspondent in a nation where looking like a local is a distinct disadvantage.

Corchado is not alone in this story. We see his childhood in Mexico, his early days as a reporter (he was the first person to interview Vincenté Fox after his historic election), and the choices that lead him to the latest and gravest threat. We meet his family, his friends, and his informants. We also met those aligned against him, and Corchado is careful to give everything nuance and context. 'Midnight in Mexico' be set against the darkness, but it is a story told in shades of gray.

Corchado expertly weaves the recent history of Mexico into his narrative in a manner that is extremely entertaining and informative. Mexico is right next door and apparently a democracy, but Corchado's work adds layers and depths and perspectives that simply are not normally understood or described in US media. He manages to be revelatory in the midst of his personal story, underpinning that story and giving it more depth and urgency.

'Midnight in Mexico' is a powerful, gripping personal and national story. Every time we think we have reached the bottom of the barrel, we find that we can upend that barrel and find something worse underneath. But Corchado is writing out of both hope and despair. His parents brought him up to be proud of his heritage and embrace his dual identity as an American citizen born in Mexico. He sees hope in the people, not the politics. 'Midnight in Mexico' makes it perfectly, personally clear just that the hell is happening, who is fighting and who is winning the war next door.

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