Cari Mora

Written by Thomas Harris

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

Cari Mora
William Heinemann
RRP: £20
Released: May 16 2019

Despite this eagerly anticipated novel being unusually concise, as it would take no more than an afternoon curled up on a sofa to consume - it cannot be labelled with that axiom “one-sitting-read”. Like a bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella (that has been aged at least ten years), it needs to be sipped slowly, as the arrangement of words to tell a story (to paint pictures in the reader’s mind) is extraordinary. However, the horrors revealed as this narrative unfurls are troubling. The story cuts jaggedly into the mind like the obsidian-edged scalpel wielded by Hans-Peter Schneider; leaving a scar, one that reverberates inside our consciousness like an echo, one that doesn’t decay like the ones we screamed into those caves we explored as children. The cries and horrors from this book will remain contained within the caverns of our mind, troubling us from time to time, whenever we recall being exposed to this narrative.

Cari Mora is the sixth published novel by the former Journalist from Mississippi. Like his 1975 debut Black Sunday, it is a ‘stand-alone’ so does not feature that singular character, the one torn from the coarse wooden floor of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, Dr Hannibal Lecter. Instead, it features a view into something far worse: a furtive glimpse at the very best, and the very worst of the people and the monsters that surround us. And at both extremes, they wear our skin.

We are introduced to sadistic criminal Hans-Peter Schneider (he of the tall hairless features) and his shadows, very bad men that work for him, and the men he provides unspeakable entertainment and horrific services for, namely the mysterious Mr Gnis of Mauritania and Mr Imran.

Then there are the South American gangsters, and their cabal who, like Schneider, have located a bolt-hole in Miami that the late Pablo Escobar owned. It was a house he never used. It was purchased for his family, should he have been arrested by the US authorities (DEA and FBI) and incarcerated on American soil. It was a place they could live, allowing his South American family a less arduous journey between penitentiary visits.

According to Jesus Villarreal, a dying man in Columbia; that house, the one that sits on stilts along the Miami Beach waterfront also contains twenty-five million US Dollars in gold-bars, the proceeds of drug money, a secret legacy of Pablo Escobar.

Jesus Villarreal is dying. He needs to provide for his family. So, in his hospital bed, between gasps of breath from his oxygen cylinder, he has been talking not only with Hans-Peter Schneider, but also Don Ernesto the head of a Columbian crime syndicate. He tells both parties the location of Pablo Escobar’s house, but warns them that the gold bars are locked within a solid-steel safe, one that is heavily reinforced and armed with Semtex. It also contains heavy-duty bolts embedded into the explosive to provide blast fragments, shrapnel if the safe is tampered with. It is securely welded with no edged hinges and no door, just one lever.

Only this dying man, a senior figure from Pablo Escobar’s drug gang, Jesus Villarreal has the instructions how to open the safe, without causing an explosion that would be visible all along the Miami waterfront.  Naturally the Miami Police as well as the DEA and FBI would like to know the location of Escobar’s twenty-five million in gold.

The live-in caretaker to the property is the beautiful Caridad Mora, a young woman from South America, now clinging onto Miami with a precarious immigration status. She is a former kidnapped child-soldier, who managed to survive (and escape) the clutches of a ruthless militia, one that showed no mercy. Cari Mora is a good person, a woman who did not allow the horrors (and torture) of her past to change her; instead she remains good, helping other people, as well as the animals at a local wildlife sanctuary. She is the light, a beacon that the forces of darkness are coming for, and for the house that Pablo Escobar built.

Apart from the gold, Hans-Peter Schneider also wishes to capture the eponymous Cari Mora, for he has designs, unspeakable desires that are detailed in a sketch pad, and shared with Mr Gnis and Mr Imran.   

And there hangs the tale, one that makes the reader pause for thought, for there are turns of phrase, sentences and paragraphs that makes one feel like a rodent trapped in the headlights of an oncoming truck. Words are selected with a precision that transforms this narrative into one that places the reader into a trance.

Harris introduces this young woman as one who could have secured a trophy from a beauty contest “…….if it were not for the scars on her arms. Truly they are only snaky lines on her clear brown-gold skin. The scars are more exotic than disfiguring. Like cave paintings of wavy snakes. Experience decorates us.”

But it’s the woman’s guile and her ability to confront the forces of evil that propels this book into becoming an experience.

It's a short novel, but one that will paint pictures in your head, literary brush strokes that folds and distorts an intriguing crime fiction scenario, into something more, something that makes you think deeply, but also one that has sharp edges that mimic the penetration of Hans-Peter Schneider’s volcanic obsidian blades.

The climatic chapters require a warning. At times I felt my heart rate elevate, as I heard the blood in my ears, surging. It took all of my self-control to read this book so very slowly, not in one gulp, instead allowing the thoughts, the phrases and insight from Thomas Harris to bleed into me.

Cari Mora’s editing is as ruthless as its antagonist’s sickening desires and actions. There is not a superfluous word, punctuation mark or subplot that is out of place. It is a beautiful piece of writing. But a warning: when I put the book down it felt like I had been exposed to a strain of literary Ebola, or the cuts and the markings on Cari Mora’s arms. It brought back memories of the times I visited exhibitions, of artistry that displayed the darkest canvases of Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Bruegel (the Elder) - I felt my mind had been scarred.

I have admiration for Thomas Harris, for what he wrote in the last paragraph of his acknowledgements, his thanks to others, for when you read Cari Mora, you will understand –

“Most of all, my thanks to this place – Miami – savory and beautiful, an intensely American City built and maintained by people who came from somewhere else, often on foot.”

I know that this sixth published narrative from Thomas Harris will remain inside the mind, because even reading his novel, and therefore being exposed to his imagination (as an experience), decorates us.

A novel like Cari Mora reinforces the brilliance of an author who can carve a piece of art from the placement of words on a page to form a narrative that scorches the mind, and makes one think. Though it has made me twitch when I now hear the term ‘English Breakfast’.

Editorial Note:

Review Published 0220 hrs Thursday 16th May 2019, abiding by the embargo criteria as agreed with William Heinemann, an imprint of PenguinRandomHouse UK  

Shots Magazine pass thanks to Charlotte Bush of PenguinRandomHouse UK for this early read of an extraordinary narrative, despite giving this reviewer, Ali Karim, terrible nightmares.

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