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BOOK REVIEW The Corner Queen
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times by Noah McCarthy

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By Carlos T. Mock, MD

Floricanto Press

The Corner Queen—"La Loca de La Esquina": A Romance and a Revolution, by local author Carlos T. Mock, MD, is a fictionalized reimagining of Puerto Rico's PRNP revolts, a series of armed protests in the 1950s for Puerto Rican independence. The eponymous hero is a lovable drag queen who spends her days falling in love, weaving tablecloths and reciting Federico Garcia-Lorca's poetry.

The central relationship of the thriller is between the Corner Queen and her straight friend, Julio. The two never consummate their affection, although they do have a memorable hillside date. On this date, it is intimated that Julio is involved with the Corner Queen only as a pretense. In reality, he is doing reconnaissance on the town of Utuado below. Though their relationship might begin as a revolutionary ruse, the pair's interactions later evolve into something far more nuanced than a one-sided love affair.

The novel's romantic beginnings tie neatly into its revolutionary plot, as the Corner Queen becomes embroiled in Julio's mysterious world of pamphlets and guns. J. Edgar Hoover makes an appearance as a mustache-twirling manipulator alongside his real-life partner Clyde Tolson, who seems to be imitating a playboy bunny. Hoover's only goal is to convince Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Muñoz-Marin to declare martial law in the face of increasing tension between the establishment and the revolutionaries.

The novel's climactic scene is a standoff in Utuado between the Corner Queen and the Puerto Rican military. The fight is dramatized to ludicrous proportions, an effect which will delight or disturb according to taste, and the Corner Queen is regrettably killed. At this point, Julio appears to her as an angel on horseback, descended from heaven.

There is an additional subplot revolving around the Cardinal of the San Juan Archdiocese and the attempted cover-up of one priest's serial pedophilia. The offending priest is killed while rallying a prayer during the Corner Queen's last stand. The novel's final pages are a short episode between the cardinal and his monsignor, wherein the two decide to make the offending priest a saint to avoid the controversy. Though the principle is sound, pedophilia was institutionalized by the Catholic Church, the attempted irony falls slightly flat.

I read an unedited version of the novel, and the style was somewhat patchy. Dialogue was often stilted, so I can only assume the final version will be much clearer. Certain plot points were introduced without subtlety, leaving me with severe whiplash. One unfortunate example involves the Corner Queen's near rape of a sleeping Julio pages after hearing the story of his abuse at the hands of a priest. When the Corner Queen snaps to her senses, she spells out: "I'm about to rape him. He just told me of his abuse. Am I any better than that priest?" The themes unfold so quickly and obviously, it's a wonder the characters don't realize they're in a fiction.

That said, the novel has a strength in elucidating an often overlooked portion of history; its back matter includes an interesting timeline of Puerto Rico in the 20th century. Another strength is its characterization. The Corner Queen and Julio are developed and tragic, and side characters have enough personality to remain memorable. The cast run the gamut of thriller tropes, but contain enough individuality to never feel truly staid. In sum, The Corner Queen is a breezy but interesting read that is especially timely in the current political climate.

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