By Kevin Rabalais
When the first reports about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill came through on April 20, 2010, my thoughts were for relatives who worked the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the next days, as news grew worse (oil gushed unchecked for nearly ninety days, the equivalent of millions of barrels, killing fish, crustaceans and birds and destroying ecosystems), I watched low-flying C-130 Hercules planes buzz over my termite-infested New Orleans apartment on their way south to disperse their loads of Corexit. At no time then or in the months and years afterward, when the environment went from bad to worse and people along the Louisiana Gulf Coast lost their livelihoods and restaurants removed local oysters and shrimp from menus, did I consider writing a novel about these devastating events. We should all be thankful that Tom Cooper did.
The Marauders—a cross between Charles Portis and Elmore Leonard, as Stephen King has it, and their lineage certainly infiltrates these pages—is a fast-paced entertainment that reads like a season of Justified set in in the swamps of southeast Louisiana. The cast of characters includes sociopathic twin brothers who reign as local drug kings and a one-armed shrimper who pops OxyContin out of a Pez dispenser and spends his free time searching for the lost treasure of the Pirates Lafitte. There’s also a BP middleman, a son of the region who has returned to bamboozle the locals into settling their claims for instant payout.
All of these characters and more collide in pages that Cooper fills with witty dialogue and sharp observations about a small community working out its frustration and fears under the pressures of giant greed. The Marauders feels like a great guilty pleasure into which we long to disappear. It’s not heavy, far from light, and burns with enough action and intrigue to remind us that the sparks of future novels are flickering around us, waiting for someone to capture and stoke them.