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El Paso is a city of borders. A river cuts the city in half, dividing the nations of Mexico and the United States. The line between countries and cultures cuts across the hearts the people too.

Everyone is trapped by the borders that divide them from each other and themselves. Ideals and the weight of her professional responsibilities hold Dr. Ana Gutierrez in thrall, separating her from her heritage and her humanity.

Ana's Anglo ex-husband, Peter Ross, guards the physical borders, while trying to bridge the emotional gap with compassion. Extremists on both sides revile him. Esmerelda Sanchez straddles the boundary of life and death, physically in the world of Peter Ross and Ana Gutierrez, but linked to the land of the dead through the spirit of her dead son.

Only one man recognizes no boundaries -- Ramon Cruz. Ramon, a boyhood friend of Ana's, seeks to reestablish the mythic empire of Aztlan, spanning Mexico and Texas. To achieve this, Ramon builds an army of fanatics and mercenaries, arms them with enough hate and plastic explosive to reduce El Paso to rubble, then draws Ana into his web.

Gritty, emotional and demanding, Bridge of Shadows hurls you into the lives of each of its characters, forcing you to see, feel and understand on their terms. Through them, the reader experiences a world more alien to many of us than Tolkien's Middle Earth. A world of dark secrets, overweening ambition, ancient magic and flawed, all too human heroes.

In this mythic landscape character, motive and action mesh like gears and pistons, driving the plot as relentlessly as the engines of the locomotives traversing the bridge between the countries. Suspense builds with each page. Concern for Ana, Peter, Esmerelda and the innocents in their orbit grabs you by the throat and won't let go.

This is a vivid book, a passionate book and a violent one. You believe the characters it presents, and for a while, you live their lives on a very visceral level. At the same time, Conrad's technical mastery is such, there is no scene or scrap of dialogue that does not contribute to the thematic unity of the whole. Nothing is wasted.

But whatever you do, do not start reading this book while attempting to do anything else. Most especially, do not cook, no matter how much your mouth starts watering at the descriptions of Gutierrez feasts. Like the tense neighborhoods of Conrad's El Paso, any pot left on the burner too long will explode.

Jean Marie Ward

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