BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Rules of Wolfe’: Gripping Tale of Risk-Taking by Texas Family With Mexico Connection

the rules of wolfe

I’ve heard of “border radio” but “Border Noir” — part of the title of James Carlos Blake’s “The Rules of Wolfe: A Border Noir” (The Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, 272 pages, $24.00) — is a designation new to me. The thriller deals with the Rio Grande Valley-based (in Texas we call it simply “The Valley”) Wolfe family of gunrunners and smugglers with operations in the northern Mexican drug cartel states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, among other locales.

The Wolfe family, blended Anglos and Hispanics like much of south Texas, has rules, but family member Eddie Gato Wolfe is eager to get on with his life, feeling shackled by the family’s slow-going, traditional ways and emphasis on higher education at institutions like Louisiana State University. Eddie’s impetuousness leads him to leave the relative safety of the Texas side of the border to work security for a drug cartel led by La Navaja.

Driven by the unbridled testosterone of youth, Eddie falls for a mysterious woman named Miranda, whom he learns too late is the property of an intimate member of La Navaja’s organization. When they’re discovered, the violent upshot forces Eddie and Miranda to run for their lives, fleeing into the deadly Sonoran Desert in hope of crossing the border to safety. Eddie is familiar with the subtropical climate of Cameron County (Brownsville and vicinity) but the heat and obstacles of the Sonoran Desert are an elevated level of difficulty as Eddie and Miranda try to evade the operatives, including bounty hunter El Martillo, that La Navaja sends after the fleeing pair. If their pursuers don’t get them, the killer desert might accomplish the task.

Eddie’s family attempts to make contact with him, but the obstacles are daunting. I found the narrative and the dialogue capable of sustaining interest — only if you’re interested in brutal cartels and their savage ways.

More often than not, reading the news accounts of the sordid goings on in places like Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo is enough for me, without adding a fictional account like “The Rules of Wolfe.” Balancing this negativity on my part is the wonderful writing by Blake, a man who has written almost a dozen novels and knows the terrain and the people of South Texas and northern Mexico intimately. If I’m forced to compare Blake with any other writer I’ve read and enjoyed, it would be Robert Olen Butler, whose “The Hot Country” I read, enjoyed and reviewed last October (link: By the way, Butler has a new Christopher Marlowe Cobb (the protagonist of “The Hot Country”) historical thriller, “The Star of Istanbul”, due this October.

About the author

James Carlos Blake, born 1947, is one of the America’s most highly regarded living authors of historical crime fiction. Born in Mexico, his family moved regularly when he was a child, living in various towns along the border and coast before finally settling in Texas when he was six. After a stint in the army, Blake attended the University of South Florida and received a Master’s degree from Bowling Green State University, both universities where he would later teach. In 1997 he left teaching to write full-time.

Blake’s first novel, “The Pistoleer”, was published in 1995 to overwhelming acclaim. Its unusual format—with each chapter told from a different character’s perspective—caused critics to dub it an unusually promising debut. Since then Blake has written eight novels and one collection of stories, most of which dealt with real-life characters from the American west. He lives and works in Arizona. More about Blake at


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