Set in New York City, this novel opens in 1992. Years ago, Luis (Tio) Ramos left Puerto Rico because of the draft and was sent to Vietnam. Like a lot of vets he saw combat and never talks about the things he saw or the things he did. Wounded, he survived it and eventually settled in NYC and began raising a family. That includes his daughter Jasmine who, at age thirteen, is now acting out in ways to annoy her parents. And annoyed they are until she vanishes. Tio has searched a bit and thinks he needs somebody younger, more hip, and so he comes to fetch Marc, a cynical young man if there ever was one, to help him look.
Marc doesn’t want to do this from the get go but one does not say no to Tio. They begin a search for Jasmine at the local indoor skating hangout known as “The Skate Key” counting on Marc’s age as being a way to get other teens to talk. As they begin to look for her and ask questions they run into a wall of police indifference based on racism, kids that won’t talk for a variety of reasons, and drug dealers that rule the streets. Tio Ramos is going to attack the problem the same way that he dealt with the Viet Cong in the jungles of Vietnam. He embarks on a search and destroy mission with one goalâ€”to get his daughter Jasmine back and everyone else, including his nephew Marc is expendable.
While NYC isn’t Vietnam, the enemy is just as tenacious and dug in with the concrete streets and alleyways serving as his jungle. The characters make frequent forays out into various areas of the city searching for information, fight skirmishes and battles, before returning to their homes for food and a few hours of sleep. That military aspect of the work where the concrete city is the urban jungle and just as deadly as the jungle in some far off war zone is clichÃ©d and yet it works well as does the pain of a missing child, a parent’s worst nightmare as the clichÃ© goes, a universal truth that almost anyone can relate to. That certainly is true here and something that Author Steven Torres uses to full chilling effect.
As he does the cynical world weary young college age student, Marc. Tio’s nephew, Marc often sounds far older than his years and routinely expresses a cynical view of life, the world, and his family’s place in things. Well aware that nothing can be fixed or reversed, he seeks to get the hunt for Jasmine over as fast as possible. Not because Jasmine could very well be in serious danger, but because he finds it all a bit much as she certainly needs to learn a lesson and besides that he has things to do. That sets up quickly a conflict between Tio, who sees family as everything and a reason for being, and Marc, who sees family as a burden to be tolerated.
Of course that results in conflict about strategies to employ in the search for Jasmine as well as how to deal with the other characters inside and outside of the family. While that conflict, that attention to detail could overwhelm the main theme of the work which is the hunt for Jasmine, it doesn’t. Instead, it adds a depth and richness to a read full of intriguing characters, plenty of action and a twisting case which ultimately results in an intense and suspenseful novel.
The Concrete Maze
By Steven Torres
ISBN # 978-0-8439-5969-7
Mass Market Paperback
Review copy provided by the author in exchange for my objective review.
Kevin R. Tipple Â© 2008
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