Undocumented workers, barrio punks with guns, high-tech strip clubs, grubby city politics, and a backpack full of dirty money—all play a part in the smart new crime novel, Pasadena Payback, by my friend and fellow indie author, M.L. Rudolph. The action mostly takes place in Pasadena, best known for its Rose Bowl and festive parades, but it starts with a gripping scene on the Arizona border and inevitably leads back there for its life-or-death finale. Serious stuff, but it’s getting there that makes this a fun, fast-paced book.
Crispín, an undocumented landscaper, is at the center of the storm. Everyone is looking for him, or maybe it’s what he knows or what he’s carrying that they want. Poor Crispín has certain obligations he never asked for and family on both sides of the border. He’s just trying to keep a low profile like all those men who stand in front of the Home Depot looking for day jobs. But things go quickly awry.
Rudolph has lots of fun exposing the flaws of the people looking for Crispín, and for me it was this social satire that made the book so enjoyable. Everyone wants power—control really—over others. The ones with power are looking to keep it; the ones with money are looking to buy it; the ones without money are looking to steal it. Power, it turns out, is illusory and quickly vanishes because there’s always a price, or a payback, for getting it.
I enjoyed the West African setting of Rudolph’s first novel, Facing the Son, but this one is even better. It’s gritty, contemporary and right in our own backyard, with characters and issues that are all too real.