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  • Dr. Brinkley's Tower
  • Written by Robert Hough
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  • Written by Robert Hough
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Dr. Brinkley's Tower

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A Novel

Written by Robert HoughAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Robert Hough

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List Price: $16.99

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On Sale: January 22, 2013
Pages: 424 | ISBN: 978-1-58642-204-2
Published by : Steerforth Steerforth Press
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

A riotous tale of love and lust, valor and villainy on the Mexican frontier of the 1930s.

Robert Hough’s vivid and wildly imaginative novel takes us to 1931 Mexico and Corazón de la Fuente, a war-ravaged border town where the only enterprise is a brothel in which every girl is called Maria. Enter, from north of the border, Dr. Romulus Brinkley, inventor of a miraculous “goat gland operation” said to cure sexual impotence. When Brinkley decides to build a gargantuan new radio tower to broadcast his services throughout the United States, he chooses none other than Corazón de la Fuente for its site.

The town’s fortunes change overnight, but not all to the good – word of the new prosperity spreads, and Corazón is overrun with desperadoes and mercenaries itching to reopen old wounds. Worst of all, Dr. Brinkley has attracted the affections of the town’s most beautiful citizen, Violeta Cruz. But with the help of a motley band of allies, Violeta’s spurned fiancé, Francisco, decides to fight back.

Inspired by the monstrous shenanigans of a real life American con man and peopled with unforgettable characters, Dr. Brinkley’s Tower captures a young Mexico caught between its own ambitions and the designs of its wealthier neighbor to the north.

Excerpt

{ 1 }
Francisco Ramirez stood fretting before an antique full-length mirror framed in strips of shellacked mesquite. It was a fine piece of craftsmanship, hand-built and intricate with detail; if you looked closely, you could see deer heads carved into the frame, each one gazing bemusedly in a different direction. The mirror, one of the family’s few notable possessions, had come to the Ramirez clan almost a century ago, when Francisco’s great-great-great-grandfather presented it to his reddening fourteen-year-old bride on their wedding night. Mi querida, he’d reportedly told her, you are growing lovelier each and every day. Now you can watch it happen as well.
 
It was now 1931, the long, bloody years of the revolution still a fresh wound. The mirror, meanwhile, had been put to daily use by five generations of the family. While it had generally been well cared for, the passage of time had nevertheless taken a toll. There was a spidery hairline crack near the bottom, the result of its having been dropped during one of its many relocations, and the surface was beginning to undulate slightly, not unlike the Coahuilan desert itself. The glass had also started to acquire a dull copper patina, such that it now cast reflections of a slightly seaweed hue. As a result, more than one Ramirez had looked at his or her reflection and erroneously concluded that the carne seca served at dinner had somehow been tainted.
 
The mirror’s real dissolution had occurred during the revolution, when government soldiers were continually requisitioning goods for the war effort, only to spend the proceeds in houses of ill repute. In an attempt to save the mirror, Francisco’s father had placed it in an old municipal grain hopper, where it was hidden beneath a mound of wheat that had been deliberately left to ferment, thus repelling tax collectors with its ammonia reek. When the family finally retrieved their cherished artifact, the wood had permanently absorbed the aroma. No amount of scrubbing, they soon discovered, could stop it from emitting the sour, vinegary odour of a gringo scouring product.
 
Given these shortcomings, the mirror had been relegated to the bedroom used by Francisco, who was now assessing himself in the turbulent, hypercritical way of all adolescents. It was mid-afternoon, and the thin chambray curtains over his bedroom window, drawn to keep out the brutalizing heat, glowed orange.
 
The problem, as he saw it, was his nose. Three years ago, in a game played on the municipal pitch out by the old Spanish mission, Francisco had inadvertently used it to stop a drive by a muchacho known for the lethality of his right foot. While doubled over in a pained, breathless silence, Francisco had grabbed the appendage, which now extended laterally from his face, and instinctively pushed it back into place. The other players looked on, amazed that he was still on his feet.
 
The accident had rendered the bridge of his nose somewhat lumpy in appearance, not unlike the backbone of a spiny armadillo. It was the mildest of disfigurements, and one that had not bothered him in the ensuing years. (In fact, if you asked the majority of the town’s young women, they would tell you that the accident had only added to Francisco’s rugged appeal.) In recent months, however, the equanimity with which he regarded his appearance had vanished, along with his ability to concentrate, sleep soundly, or generate anything resembling an appetite.
 
Ay, he thought to himself. You need the help of an expert.
 
He took a deep breath, crossed the room, and left the dank, crumbling row house in which he lived with his father, his grandmother, and his two young brothers. Walking with his head down, a means of avoiding the many pits and chasms in the street, he moved along Avenida Hidalgo, which formed the southern border of his native town, Corazón de la Fuente. He then bisected the town’s arid main plaza, causing several neighbouring busybodies to wonder where Francisco Ramirez might be heading. Upon reaching the east side of the plaza, just beyond the town’s pitiful church, he entered a narrow side street that led to Corazón’s second, smaller plaza. Little more than a mounding of dry, sun-baked earth, it was surrounded by a traffic circle that serviced a trio of similarly dry and sun-baked laneways.
 
Facing this plazita was the home and business of an eighty-eight-year-old Casanova named Roberto Pántelas. For decades he had made his living by grinding corn, wheat, and coffee beans, and for this reason was referred to by most as the molinero. Yet he was best-known for his understanding of the fairer sex, having bedded somewhere between seven and eight thousand specimens during his long, virile life. Francisco found him sitting on a low wooden bench. Feeling the cool thrown by Francisco’s shadow, the molinero lifted his craggy, age-weathered face.
 
— Francisco Ramirez, he croaked. — My young compadre. You startled me.
 
— Hola, Señor Pántelas.
 
— Please, sit down. Keep an old man company.
 
Francisco lowered himself, a comfortable silence settling between the two. Finally, Francisco felt compelled to speak.
 
— Señor . . . I was wondering if you might help me.
 
The molinero slowly looked in the teenager’s direction.
 
— Help you? How?
 
— Could you tell me . . . How do I . . . win the affection of a young woman? A young woman who is showing no signs of interest?
 
The old man thought for a moment. — By any chance, are we talking about the lovely and serious-minded Violeta Cruz?
 
Francisco nodded, for some reason feeling foolish. In a town with only eight hundred or so residents, all it had taken was a few indiscreet glances, along with an ill-timed blush or two at the mention of her name, and the understanding that Francisco Ramirez was yet another young man who had fallen for Violeta Cruz now followed him wherever he went.
 
— Sí, he answered dejectedly.
 
The molinero chuckled warmly. — Nothing like setting your sights high. She’ll be a tough nut to crack, that one. Of course, if my old eyes are still working as they should, it’ll be worth the effort.
 
Francisco couldn’t help himself. He grinned and nodded.
 
The molinero pondered, his milky eyes gazing into the middle distance, his spotted hands quivering in his lap. His breath slowed so considerably that Francisco feared the old man had chosen that moment to enjoy one of his several daily siestas. Yet just as Francisco was about to touch the molinero on the shoulder, he turned slightly and began to speak.
 
— Why not invite her to tomorrow’s festivities?
 
— I was thinking of that. You think she might accept?
 
The molinero shrugged his shoulders and grinned. — Ay, Francisco, she’s a woman. How would I know?
They’re as unpredictable as desert fire. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be worth the bother.
 
Francisco chuckled, thanked the old man, and prepared to take his leave. Just as he was rising to his feet, the molinero spoke up.
 
— There is one other thing you could try.
 
— And what is that?
 
— A little prayer wouldn’t hurt.

Author Q&A

Author Q&A

         A Conversation with Robert Hough, author of        
Dr. Brinkley’s Tower
A Novel
Published by Steerforth Press January 2, 2013 Distributed by Random House
 
 
What was ‘Mexican radio?’
Mexican radio describes an era in which American entrepreneurs, most of them charlatan doctors, built massive radio transmitters just over the border in Mexico. There were no broadcast regulations in Mexico, which meant they could blanket all of north America with a very powerful signal. They would then use these radio transmissions to promote whatever treatment they happened to be peddling.
Who was Dr. John Romulus Brinkley?
Dr. Brinkley started the era of Mexican Radio by building a one-million watt radio tower in a small town called Villa Acuña, Mexico. To go with it, he founded a station called XER Radio (‘The Sunshine Station From Between The Nations’) which operated out of a border town in Texas called Del Rio. It was the original ‘border blaster’ station, the signal so powerful that, in the 1930s, Russians learned English by listening to XER Radio.
What sort of radio station was XER?
In many ways it was a typical rural-American radio station: lots of bluegrass and American folk music, preaching, agriculture reports, pork belly prices, etc. The station ran 24 hours a day, and throughout Brinkley was constantly promoting what he called his “goat-gland operation.”
What was the goat-gland operation?
Brinkley treated male patients with ‘virility problems’ by taking slivers of goat testicle and implanting them in his patients. As bizarre as it may sound, men came far and wide to have this done, and Brinkley grew very, very wealthy. Eventually, though, the IRS caught up with him and jailed him for non-payment of taxes.
Why were you attracted to this material?
In the towns where the ‘border blasters’ were located, the signal was so strong that it broadcast through anything metal: fencing wire, forks, braces, toasters, you name it. As well, at a million watts, radio waves are no longer invisible: the skies above the towns lit up bright green, especially at night. So I always thought it would be a picaresque setting for a novel. Plus, Brinkley is a real scalawag, and who doesn’t like that?
 
What happens in your novel?
The book describes what happens to the Mexicans living in the town where Brinkley sets up his radio station.  At first, they are all happy that Brinkley has chosen their town for the tower, as it will bring jobs and progress. Yet the signal is so obnoxious that it starts drives them all crazy. Old resentments among the townsfolk are rekindled and they start to fight.  In other words, all hell breaks loose.
Is there a theme to the book?
The action within the book is anchored around a romance, so first and foremost I’d say that Dr. Brinkley’s Tower is a love story set in an exotic locale. Yet I think the book does suggest that if you’re going to monkey with another country’s business, you better be careful.
Is it true some of the action in the book was inspired by the war in Iraq?
Believe it or not, yes. As I was writing the back half of the novel, the war in Iraq was starting to really go south for everyone concerned. So whatever happened in Iraq I put in Dr. Brinkley’s Tower – disenchantment with the liberating forces, hostilities forming, the involvement of mercenaries, the complete breakdown of order. Even I was surprised by how well it all worked.
The novel is very funny. What role does humor have in your books?
In my novels, the first two acts tend to be quite amusing, but things tend to turn a little more serious as I start to get at what the novel’s really about. I feel it’s easier to be poignant if readers are unprepared for the more serious elements of a novel, and a good way to trick them into letting their guard down is to make them laugh.
Finally, the book has a real page-turning quality. Was this deliberate or a happy accident?
I pick up a lot of literary novels, and though the characters and writing are extremely rich, I am often disappointed by the lack of story design. I try not to make this mistake: my aim is to keep people reading late into the night.
 
For more information, contact:
Chip Fleischer
Publisher
Steerforth Press
chip@steerforth.com
603-643-4787, x303

Praise

Praise

 "A wildly imaginative historical novel set in the Mexican border town of Corazon de la Fuente, with a nod to the shenanigans of a true-life con artist." – O Magazine

"Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, the inspiration for this folksy, ingratiating novel, was a real person, although his life was tailor-made for fiction. . . . Hough's tone recalls Mark Twain in tall-tale mode, but the story is also shot through with threats and portents. . . . In its own smart, seriocomic way, Hough's novel preaches the virtues of refusing to get screwed again." The Washington Post

“The prosperity an American doctor’s broadcasting service promises to bring a Mexican brothel town instead produces disaster in Dr. Brinkley’s Tower . . . There’s a dignity to the people in the town, despite their poverty, so readers care desperately when the tower brings its changes. We come to inhabit the town, walking its avenues and smelling the cooking . . . Fans of Gabriel García Márquez will recognize a touch of his lyricism, but this book is firmly grounded in reality. At the core of the richly interwoven stories is the search for the difference between false promise and real worth. Memorable historical fiction.” Booklist


"Hough take(s) all of these characters beyond stereotypes and invest(s) them with humanity and humor. . . . Hough slyly presents a cast of characters largely taken in by their own folly and gullibility." -- Kirkus Reviews

The Governor General's Award -- Finalist

"Hilarious and penetrating . . . Hough is a master storyteller." -- Globe and Mail

"Dr. Brinkley’s Tower moves like an extremely well-oiled machine, juggling and nudging forward all kinds of subplots without ever drawing attention to the muscularity required to do so." --  National Post

"A smooth, entertaining and entrancing [read]." -- Toronto Star

"A tapestry-rich, almost magical narrative with dozens of fully realized characters and a vividly detailed world ... [Dr. Brinkley's Tower] is a thing of wonder." -- Edmonton Journal

"An entertaining page-turner" -- NOW Magazine

"With ingenious characters and striking scenes, Hough reveals a love of Mexican culture and has crafted a story that convincingly illustrates the emotions of men and women."  -- FFWD

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