4 out of 4 stars
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Most of us will strongly agree that at times, truth seems rather stranger than fiction, but I can say that sometimes truth is as wild and exciting as fiction, and Gringo by Dan "Tito" Davis is a perfect example of that. If he could do it, Dan would stick to white crosses. He has lived the kind of life that is often only seen in films.
Dan "Davis", also called Tito, has lived an extraordinary life, and we are lucky enough that a man with the skills of Peter Conti was willing to help him tell his story. The book opens with what gives the feel of the literary variant of a television teaser: a prologue which shows where the author's life will go, featured just before a first chapter, which goes back to the author's childhood. Raised by parents deeply affected by the Great Depression, Davis gains an appreciation for finer things at a young, impressionable age after enjoying the staggering income acquired by racing horses as a jockey. Then while attending college, he realizes the business opportunity to be made selling White Crosses speed pills to his fellow students at Black Hills State College in 1972. With an enterprising mind, he quickly finds himself moving from peddler to supplier, eventually transferring to Las Vegas and pulling down as much as $2,00,000 a week through the illicit drug network established by the Bandidos Motorcycle Gang. He also makes a few mistakes along the way, trusts the wrong person, and is slapped with charges of peddling hard drugs.
The best part : Davis' White Crosses are made of ephedrine and not amphetamine and they are technically legal. The mistake he makes is peddling cocaine and marijuana. Thus, getting framed for a crime he actually didn't commit, Davis decides to go on the run and what follows is a border-hopping adventure to South America.
The prologue at the beginning, is used effectively to stir and maintain the reader's interest. Knowing briefly what turns and twists are coming up next, I found myself wondering just what exactly would lead Davis to flee to Central America and what direction would his life take from there. While I was more than just eager to reach that part of the narration which would feature his escape from the law, reading those early chapters were equally exciting and kind of prolonging in a good way, as you just find yourself getting more and more hungry for what the next event would be. These early chapters gave me a decent dig into Davis' personality, allowing me to recognize intricate details of his character and what all factors landed him to the part of his life which constitute the climax of this story.
The story begins with Tito, merely Dan Davis then - as a young, Midwestern man looking for some way to make money. He settles on selling drugs, and from a little ambition, a little know-how and some good luck as well as expertise in catching hold of the right people, he builds himself a nascent drug empire. The story till this point in itself is a thriller tale, but the actual thrill begins from here. A childhood friend frames Davis with two pounds of Meth which slaps him with a sentence of decades in prison in 1994. Tito realizes that he is being hunted by the government. He abandons his family to flee the country and makes his way to Central America. He sure isn't giving in for a crime he didn't commit. Once in Central America, he goes about building a life for himself.
He leaves South Dakota for Denver and then crosses the Mexican border, beginning a 13 year escape from federal officials that comes to an end in Venezuela when U.S. Marshals catch up with him. He is then sent back to the United States where he serves a prison sentence which ends with his release in 2015.
Now living in Key West, Davis visits family and friends in South Dakota following his release from prison, the first time he’s been home since fleeing the country. Davis recalls with fondness his time as a boy in South Dakota. It was a simple time.
From South Dakota to Venezuela, Gringo is a fast paced, roller coaster adventure that will leave readers completely hooked, and completely exhausted trying to keep up. Davis struggles with acquiring false paperwork, encounters kidnappers, smugglers, assassins, scam artists, and prostitutes; some become his network of friends and support while he falls victim to others. Despite these harsh labels, Davis also manages to humanize the people he encounters by describing their families, their day jobs, and illustrating often how they are making the best of the situation life has thrown them into.
I rate Gringo by Dan "Tito" Davis a perfect 4 out of 4 stars because this book is a unique look at the inside of lives lived under the blurred out edges of society, of illegal or barely legal business ventures, and how one decision can completely turn someone’s life into a different direction. It also serves as a different point of view into the War on Drugs pushed by the United States Legislature and how it affected people, and how dramatically laws have changed from the 60s and 70s to now. Whether or not you sympathize with Davis and the people he met over his life, Gringo is a hard one to put down.
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