Vasquez’s Hooligan is Riley James, a Belize bad boy trying to go straight. He and a pal have opened up a tourist-friendly bar, and life is struggling toward copacetic. There’s a girl, too, an American photographer, and Riley allows himself to imagine a future marriage and new life in the US—until a traffic accident shatters James’ fragile tropical dream and debt forces him to get reacquainted with the drug-running Monsanto brothers, for whom he promises to deliver “one last score.”
If we’ve seen these broad strokes painted before—troubled criminal (with, yes, a heart of gold) who just needs a break, Caribbean drug smuggling, stormy tropical romance—Vasquez, to his credit, does not let the tropes get in the way of a damn good story. James has such low-key confidence, and faith in his friends, that it is hard not to root for the guy.
Vasquez also has confidence in his characters, and there are great relationship dynamics in the novel. A friendly former nun acts as a surrogate mother to James, and the elder Monsanto, his stand-in for a father. Never trust something that’s too good to be true, though, and James learns this lesson: It’s not easy to start over when you start out the hard way. Mr. Hooligan is only Vasquez’s third book, and it shows off a developing Elmore Leonard-ian gift for writing seriously cool, confident crime.