by Julio Ortiz

"Man the block was hot. People were getting arrested and shot. I left for San Antonio, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the man. It was fresh, untapped territory."

A psychological mystery pervades this tale of a young man’s journey from the wrong side of the tracks to the right side of the law. Leonardo grows up in a tough neighborhood in Houston, Texas. Like most at-risk youth he has some missteps along the way, but he eventually winds up becoming an FBI agent. As such, he commits himself not only to solving the specific jobs he’s tasked with but also to unravel the mystery of a cult-like organization seemingly fixated on personal growth and awareness often achieved at the expense of the law.

From Texas to California, Leonardo pursues information and people who appear to be connected by the tattoos they wear. Computer circuitry and machine-oriented illustrations inked on the bodies of disparate individuals eventually lead him to a final confrontation with a cadre of criminals led by El General. When the FBI man’s undercover role is exposed, there is hell to pay as the forces of light and darkness duel in a violent confrontation.

This short novel doesn’t spend all of its time simply unspooling the plot. The author seems as keen on examining behavior and motivation as he does on telling a story. His exploration of the linkage between commitment to a personal code of conduct and the symbolism of machine-like execution become an ongoing examination of influence throughout the narrative. This intellectual exercise, however, doesn’t keep him from building suspense and including action sequences when they’re called for. Plus, the ending indicates there may be even more story to come.

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