3 out of 4 stars
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The Ordinary Monster is a psychological thriller by Mario Kiefer. Hector Rivera, a Mexican man who works picking cotton, confirms his suspicions about his best friend, Jesús, whom he follows discreetly during a lunch break. Jesús enters Hector's home and stays awhile, kissing Hector's wife Mariana when he leaves. Later, possessed by fury (La Furia), Hector shoots his wife dead and storms over to Jesús's house, seeking vengeance. Alas, his rampage claims two innocent victims when he renders Jesús's daughter Luciana paralysed with his errant gunshots, while Hector's godson, Junior, loses three fingers after his hand becomes trapped in the lit stovetop. Later, leaving his cruel and selfish father behind, Junior finds a new home in El Paso with Eldon and Emma, a loving older couple who teach him to read and to repair cars, raising him with decent moral values. Now an adult, Junior seeks vengeance on his godfather for himself and his sister, blaming Hector for all the misfortune in his life. Hector, seeking to escape the monster he knows as La Furia, has established himself a new identity as Alejandro Melendez. Will Junior track down his godfather and exact his vengeance, or will the teachings of his loving foster parents override his blood lust?
The Ordinary Monster is the third book in a series, yet I picked up the story with no problems, suggesting a seamless recap of the previous two books. I really liked the cover, which featured a fractured collage of a man's face, like jagged pieces of mirror glass assembled into a surreal Picasso portrait. Kiefer's well-edited writing was neat and easy to read, which I enjoyed. The plot was also extremely engaging, a real page-turner which hooked me in early and kept me reading. I enjoyed the author's occasional similes such as the one describing Hector's suspicions about Jesús, which were “insisting upon his attention in much the same way that a germaphobe with obsessive-compulsive disorder might constantly wash his hands.”
During his confession to a priest, Hector's personification of his rage as the demon La Furia (“fury”) gave it a real character of its own, clearly showing the powerful hold it had over his life. Characters used Spanish phrases at times, but the switching from English to Spanish and back was neat, and the context always hinted at the meaning for the reader. The dialogue was generally excellent, very natural, with some great expressions peculiar to each character, such as: “Don't sass me, boy,” from Eldon, a native of the southern states of the US. Kiefer's character development was also top-notch for Hector and Junior and their families, the relationships fleshed out seamlessly throughout the story.
Overall, I found The Ordinary Monster a fascinating character study of two men linked by tragedy: Hector, a man forced to a wrathful act of vengeance that went awry, and Junior, a victim of that wrath, who now swore vengeance of his own. Each man had a pitched battle raging inside him between the better angels of his nature and the “demon” La Furia, his righteous anger over the perceived wrongs against him. Kiefer built tension nicely toward the end of the book as the confrontation between Junior and Hector loomed; I found myself eagerly anticipating the conflict. Without revealing specifics, I can say that the ending was chilling, with a definite moral lesson against carrying grudges and continuing to perpetuate a cycle of vengeance.
The only negative for me about this book was its minor errors, mainly with punctuation, such as missing or unnecessary commas. It also had occasional hyphenation where it wasn't needed; for example; “...customers that streamed-in on a daily basis.” If not for these minor errors, I would definitely rate The Ordinary Monster 4 stars. It was a compelling character-driven story of honour, vengeance, and the uncontrollable fury that can grip a man pushed by another to the brink of insanity. Currently, I can only rate it 3 out of 4 stars. It does contain profanity, but only in keeping with the frustrations of the characters. Those who enjoy a great character-driven psychological thriller will be gripped, held, and shaken...by La Furia.
The Ordinary Monster
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