Something for Nothing
By Robert Richter
Publisher: Dark Oak Mystery Series, 2015
Paper: $14.95 US Kindle: $2.99 US
Review By Jim Tipton
Robert Richter’s new novel is his third featuring Cotton Waters, ‘not your ordinary roving gringo’. Cotton is called Algo by his Mexican buddies, shortened from the Spanish word for Cotton, algodon. Algo in Spanish means “Something.” Although Cotton prefers ‘a little cantina small talk over a cold Dos Equis,’ serious circumstances farther up the Pacific Coast are sucking him in. His old buddy, self-taught archaeologist and relic hunter Gabby MacLean, has asked Cotton to leave his “unofficial Vallarta office,” which is “the far back booth of Juan Carlos’ Iguana Bar,” to come find him “in the river delta swamps of northern Nayarit to help deal with Cortès’ Treasure—the real thing….”
He and Gabriel MacLean had hit it off when they had first met “that long ago night on a Mexican beach”. Gabe had mused, “Cotton Watters, the kind of name that strikes one. About a year or so ago, it seems like someone of that name was involved in some rather violent intrigue against the U.S. government….” “Probably some other Cotton Waters,” I said.” Gabe reassures Cotton, “A decent moral stance must at times be couched in socially unacceptable behavior to be effective.” Cotton, ‘Algo,’ is determined to find this fascinating old man and Something for Nothing chronicles his search, about a week long; but early on he is given cause to reflect on his situation: ‘There’s something conducive to self-revelation, standing naked in a back-country Mexican midnight village street, thinking that you have one chance, one place to go for any acceptance or safety, and that place is a pulque den and billiard bar in the shabbiest stuccoed corner of a podunk island town in a flooding Mexican river….’ In “San Blas, the seamiest, seediest port town on Mexico’s west coast,” Cotton gets a room at the Buccanero, which he shared with “two geckos and a Jurassic cockroach.” The “screen in the lower left corner of the window was pulled out so a thief would have to be armless not to be able to reach inside my room and unlock the door from the inside.”
Robert Richter is a master of raw and fresh description, frequently done with sardonic humor; but he is also capable of lyrical passages that capture evanescent beauty. As Cotton headed north that first evening, “the Nayarit Pacific was molten gold…the surf a pearl necklace against the pulsing breast of the coast.” In San Blas he encounters, in addition to narco-traficantes, “A small coven of foreign travelers,” including a young and inexperienced tourist—his “first time anywhere”—that Cotton pulls off the street and into the action: “Marvin in Panama hat and squeaky new sandals, a fox on the pocket of his yellow polo shirt, a calculator tucked behind it.” Marvin Mason, naïve but of a noble spirit, is a character we come to root for.
Two characters we do not root for are upper class urbanites, the beautiful Mexican couple who “despised Americans and would never deal with one except to take his money” and who felt that because they were born into the Mexican elite that gave them “the inherent right to buy, steal and sell their country’s cultural and historical treasure….” Cotton tells the Mexican woman with the “fine green eyes” that “You’re more gringa than a Barbie doll, honey.”
Throughout Something for Nothing, Richter reveals his disdain for the upper classes and his sympathy for their victims. Much of his work is inspired by his 40-year love affair with Mexico. He has written three Cotton Waters mysteries (all available on Kindle): Something in Vallarta (1991), Something Like a Dream (2014), this latest, Something for Nothing (2015), all set on Mexico’s western Riviera. Richter has also written two non-fiction books about Mexico: Search for the Camino Real: A History of San Blas and the Road to Get There (2011) and Cuautémoc Cárdenas and the Roots of Mexico’s New Democracy (2000). I’ve gotten hooked on Robert Richter’s character Cotton “Algo” Waters and his adventures in western Mexico.