Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Gabino Iglesias has recently become a must-read author for many people for his unusual and poignant storytelling abilities. In his most recent novel, The Devil Takes You Home, he tells the tale of Mario, a man forced to become a hit man due the expensive treatments required by his ill daughter. One day, tragedy strikes, and Mario decides to take on one last and lethal job: to hijack a cartel’s money shipment.
Table of contents
Gabino Iglesias Begins the Nightmarish Descent
Most of us tend to wonder exactly what we would be capable of if pushed to our limits, largely because there’s no real way of telling what reserves are hiding inside us for such a scenario. Most of us would like to think we can stick to our principles through thick and thin, but as we all know it, life rarely unfolds as planned, as is the case for Mario, the protagonist of The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias.
Before going further I’d just like to point out this book does have a few segments written in Spanish, and while they do total less than a tenth of the book, they’ll likely require you to use a dictionary or some sort of translation app. Some might view it as an insurmountable entry bar, but to me it was nothing but a slight inconvenience I was more than willing to put up with.
The plot begins by introducing us to the man question, and from the very start it becomes apparent he has seen better days. His young daughter’s illness is expensive to treat and has him buried beneath metric tons of debt, and to top things off, his marriage is on the very brink of collapse. He’s about to lose it all, and finds an unexpected solution to his problems.
Reluctantly at first, Mario begins to take jobs as a hit man, getting himself through the morbid acts with the thought he has no other choice. However, it doesn’t take long for Mario to actually start enjoying his new occupation, surprising even himself at his immense proclivity for violence, hidden somewhere in the depths of his soul up until now.
The strange balance achieved by Mario in his life doesn’t last for very long, and tragedy inevitably strikes in his household, essentially destroying the life he had been trying so hard to save. With nothing but his profession as a hired killer left, he decides to tackle one final job, bound to either make him a small fortune, or leave him for dead.
The job consists of hijacking a cartel money shipment before it reaches Mexico. At his side are an old friend, and a supposed insider from the cartel. The three men begin their long journey through Texas, across the border and back, but along the way are faced with an ever-expanding nightmare (parts of which defy explanation), dragging them deeper and deeper into their own hearts of darkness.
The Horror of Crime in The Devil Takes You Home
I feel like I should begin by addressing the most common criticism people have made about this book: the amount of gore and violence. While I can only give you a personal assessment based on my own sensitivity to the subject matter, I do think the criticism to be not only somewhat exaggerated, but also indicative of shortsightedness. After all, what else should one expect from a novel about a hit man who loves violence and goes after the cartel?
I wouldn’t say the violent scenes are so numerous and extensive so as to have blood leaking out of the pages. As a matter of fact, I can confidently say I’ve read plenty of books which had a good deal more violence in them. However, what sets this one apart, and the reason I think some people are taken aback by it, is just how visceral and well-described it is in this book.
Whereas in most novels blood and guts feel like elements you’re observing from a distance, in The Devil Takes You Home Gabino Iglesias has the valuable ability of dragging the reader right into the middle of the action. He makes you feel as if you’re not just reading about it, but actually witnessing it from up close, powerless to help it or stop it.
Additionally, I do believe it was the author’s intent to portray Mario’s path in all of its horrifying ugliness. Contract killers are often romanticized in novels, movies and video games, but Iglesias reminds us of just how deeply-mired in pain and suffering their worlds are, how much darkness they bring into the world around them.
Though it’s certainly a crime novel from a certain standpoint, I found the story veered more towards the horror genre the further I got into it, with even a few unexplained elements thrown in to keep me on my toes. It becomes more than just a novel about a man killing people and being driven to desperation by the American healthcare system; it becomes a story of three men descending into their own personal darkness.
The Father’s Spiral
Mario is one of the more interesting protagonists I’ve had the pleasure of following recently, and I must say few have left me with as many conflicting feelings as he did. One one hand, Gabino Iglesias accomplished a monumental task in getting me to feel his pain and desperation, despite the fact I don’t find him very relatable.
Despite not seeing myself reflected in him, I still felt a certain form of kinship and sympathy, the kind we tend to feel towards suffering people who are unknown to us. As he descended further into his spiral and began to lose the only elements in his life which gave him some meaning, I could feel his despair to the point where I felt I had to take a break for a little bit.
On the other hand, as a hit man, Mario performs more than a few dastardly deeds, and there were a few moments where my hatred for him ran deep as he watched horrible acts being committed while doing absolutely nothing to stop them, despite being able to. There is a strong sense of duality in Mario, carrying both the figures of the loving father and the bloodthirsty murderer within himself.
As you might have guessed, The Devil Takes You Home isn’t the type of novel with plenty of comic relief or rays of sunlight strewn throughout. On the contrary, it starts off at two minutes to midnight, and only gets darker from there on out. There is, however, the sliver of a chance Mario might find some form of happy ending, but even this concept is relative to a man in his position.
Though the other characters in the book are quite well-developed with their own believable back stories and mysteries to uncover, they did end up playing second fiddle from a distance to Mario and his internal complexity. What they do well, however, is provide interesting avenues for the story to move forward, and perhaps more importantly, additional opportunities for Mario to reveal more of his inner world, to wade further into the blackened quagmire of his own mind.
|320||Mulholland Books||Aug. 2 2022||978-0316426916|
The Final Verdict
The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias is one of the more original horror/crime thrillers I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year, taking us deep inside the head of a regular man forced down the killer’s path and his violent journey to the core of his own being.
If you’re in search of a darker type of novel with a fair bit of violence in it and centred on a “heart of darkness” type of journey in the Southern parts of the United States, then you’ve definitely found the perfect fit.
Gabino Iglesias is an American author, journalist, professor and literary critic living in Austin, Texas. He received two nominations for the Bram Stoker Award, in addition to which he won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019 for Coyote Songs. Some of his more acclaimed works include Zero Saints, The Devil Takes You Home and Lullabies for Suffering.