‘The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.’ That line, from D H Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), is the epigraph of The Harder They Come, a novel that opens with headlong force: Sten and Carolee Stensen, retirees from California, are on a cruise through Costa Rica when local men try to rob their tour group. Sten chokes the leader; the others flee. The vacationers hail him as a hero, but his outburst of violence shadows the Stensens’ return home, where their son, Adam, is harvesting opiates. Sten is a member of a council monitoring the area for Hispanic cartels, and the plot accelerates to a brutal close once he discovers that Adam is the ‘killer’ whom the council is hunting.
T C Boyle’s Adam nods to R W B Lewis’s