In the intense national discussion of the novel American Dirt, one of the things that sometimes gets said is that the book would have drawn less notice–that its errors would have been less egregious–if it had been marketed as a thriller. But, of course, page-turners (whether they’re in the thriller genre or simply using conventions from it) should not be viewed as a wasteland of cultural appropriation. For example, there is Daniel Peña’s recent novel Bang. It involves characters who are undocumented and live on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. It also involves cartels, a plane crash, and an urgent sense of threat.
From page one, Bang demonstrates the ways that thriller conventions can be written into a very specific depiction of place, as in this opening scene of a woman waiting for her deported husband to return from Mexico:
“In her hands, she holds a portable transistor radio that she’s modified to pick up police radios, EMT radios, border patrol radios and twangy, redneck rag chew coming in over the CB waves. She listens for any news of her husband, trying to make sense of the garbled English blaring from the transistor’s speaker. The radio cuts in and out. Static.”