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Do They Know I'm Running?

Do They Know I'm Running
NEW! Now available in ebook format from Open Road Media/Mysterious Press

"...a rich, hard-hitting epic..."
—Publishers Weekly

"Corbett's finest book to date and that's saying a lot."
—Biblio Bloggins

"With every word and every paragraph, Corbett is forging a new sort of noir, set in the desert of the human heart."
—Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column

Read more praise

oque Montalvo is wise beyond his eighteen years. Orphaned at birth, a gifted musician, he's stuck in a California backwater, helping his Salvadoran aunt care for his damaged brother, an ex-marine badly wounded in Iraq.

When immigration agents arrest Roque's uncle, the family has nowhere else to turn. Badgered by his street-hardened cousin, Roque agrees to bring the old man back, relying on the criminal gangs that control the dangerous smuggling routes from El Salvador, through Guatemala and Mexico, to the U.S. border.

Do They Know I'm Running?

But his cousin has told Roque only so much. In reality, he will have to transport not just his uncle but two others: an Arab whose intentions are disturbingly vague and a young beauty promised to a Mexican crime lord.

Roque discovers that his journey involves crossing more than one kind of border, and he will be asked time and again to choose between survival and betrayal—of his country, his family, his heart.

Read an excerpt

Read David's blog posting, "The Character of Strangers," about the writing of his latest novel, at Amazon's Author Central


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Ballantine Books; Original edition (March 2010), ISBN-10: 0812977556, ISBN-13: 978-0812977554


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Winner Best Novel, Rising Star Category Spinetingler Magazine

A Best Books of 2010 Crime Fiction Pick, January Magazine

A Spinetingler Magazine Best Mystery/Crime Fiction Pick for 2010

A Staff Favorite Pick for 2010, Poisoned Pen Bookstore

A Biblio's Bloggins 2010 Reading List Pick

A 2010 Top Pick by Vince Keenan


"Corbett delivers a rich, hard-hitting epic that illuminates the violent and surreal landscapes of Central America and Mexico. . . .an unforgettable journey . . . Fans of Luis Alberto Urrea and Don Winslow alike will be richly rewarded."
   —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"In this powerful, evocative, character-driven novel, Corbett has written what should be a breakout success. . . Readers who devour and then forget formulaic crime novels won't soon forget this one."
   —Booklist (starred review)

"Corbett is superb. And, if it's possible, he raises his game in Do They Know I'm Running?
Corbett succeeds at exactly what he sets out to do. He has given us a thoroughly entertaining work that lingers long after the final page has been read.
Do They Know I'm Running? is a powerful and sobering work. It is Corbett's finest book to date
and that's saying a lot.
   —Biblio Bloggins (read the full review)

"Both gritty and sensitive, this amazing novel is a page turner and a literate gem. All David Corbett's hard hitting, yet sensitive thrillers deal with important issues. Yet, he never preaches. No wonder, other authors love to read David Corbett's work. Do They Know I'm Running?, is his best yet!"
   —Elaine Petrocelli, BOOK PASSAGE

"[T]here hasn't been a better thriller novel produced this year than this coming-of-age masterpiece. It's a thriller that actually thrills, because the stakes are real and the issues matter. . . . . Corbett's big story in a small package is so rich with personality and meaning, that it brought tears to my eyes. But Do They Know I'm Running? is not only entertaining, it's important."
   —Cameron Hughes, January Magazine, Best Books of 2010: Crime Fiction

"Do They Know I'm Running?, whether you like it or love it, will bring you up to speed on just how much a single novel can still change your life... Corbett writes with such unflinching honesty that we have to forgive him the loss of our innocence as Roque Montalvo, Latino Holden Caulfield of the 21st century, fights the law;

both that of the land and that of unintended consequences...

Why is David Corbett the next big American novelist?—Because he knows what he's doing. At a time when most men of letters think they owe it to themselves to be easily bruised, Corbett knows he owes it to his readers to be engaging, full of knowledge, and unafraid. Setting his sights on a world beyond his own is not colonial complacency but simple strength. He goes to places we don't understand with the same humility and the same sensitivity with which he lets us see our shared violence and suffering. He is at home in life and yet even in his darkest moments he shows us the difference between imitation feeling and the real thing.

Yes, David Corbett knows what he's doing when he shows us sentimentality and cynicism as two sides of one nature, when he makes us consider how honest we actually want him to be, not just about his protagonists, but ourselves. That, finally, is the measure of how much a novel can change your life. When you find your own answer to Do They Know I'm Running?, the world might not be a better place but you will certainly be a better reader; one who doesn't simply know more than the indifferent or unguided but cares and enjoys more."
Len Wanner, The Crime of It All

"Do They Know I'm Running? Is David Corbett's fourth novel and it's his best yet. The writing is facile and shows great range. It is tender when it wants to be and tough when it has to be. For a book this complex Do They Know I'm Running? flat out moves. It starts off quick and never lets up.
In the wake of the release of Jonathan Franzen's newest novel, Freedom, and his picture appearing on the cover of Time magazine, the talk of the Great American Novelist came up again. A lively part of this ongoing debate (and a great way to get hip to some new and different authors/books) was the recommendations for who SHOULD have been given the title, the cover story and the hype. My participation in these discussions of who are overlooked great American novelists ultimately distilled to four names—two that are older and have been around for decades and two that are younger and have only been publishing novels for the last decade—James Ellroy, Charles Portis, Jess Walter and David Corbett. Stylistically Walter and Corbett are not alike but thematically these two writers are engaging in some of the most vibrant grappling of current issues in contemporary fiction and doing so in way that will resonate with readers now and in future generations."
   —Brian Lindenmuth, Spinetingler Magazine

"Corbett's novel has the raw, powerful feel of a documentary film. It's gritty, violent, but also engagingly emotional. His prose rides that line between sparse and evocative. Like any good detective, he knows when to tell us the details, and he knows when to hold them back. He involves us in the hearts of his characters, and we make that investment gladly, even if it looks to be harrowingly dangerous. The rewards outweigh the risks. But Corbett also knows how to write a ripping yarn. Roque, the family he was given and the family that he chooses, are all on the wrong side of both sides; they're prey to the criminal predatory gangs that now control illegal immigration, they're criminals to the police who control the border and they're a potential threat to anyone who sees them and perceives them as not one of us. Corbett does not shy away from the dark, casual cruelty that casts fear into the lives of those in the shadows of the gangs. He doesn't dwell on it, but he knows how to crank up the tension and create memorable scenes; not just for the orchestration of action, but as well, for the character arcs of these people his readers come to care so much about. With every word and every paragraph, he's forging a new sort of noir, set in the desert of the human heart."

   —Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column (read the full review)

"Simplistically, Do They Know I'm Running? is a modern take on "The Odyssey," a displaced character's long journey home from a foreign land. But author David Corbett layers this harrowing trek from El Salvador to the U.S. border with so many breathtaking details that the story takes on profound, heart-wrenching dimensions with every page turned. Do They Know I'm Running? ranks with Don Winslow's "The Power of the Dog" as an essential novel about U.S. relations with our neighbors in Central America."
   —Rege Behe, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (read the full review)

"Do They Know I'm Running? is written with a reporter's eye and a poet's heart. It's wildly ambitious, packed with richly detailed characters, showing how distant spots on the globe from Central America to the Middle East are inextricably connected. Its vast scope occasionally threatens to become sprawl, but David always narrows his focus at exactly the right time to the things that matter: the obligations we all shoulder, the burdens we choose to ignore, the unspoken commitments to our loved ones. That intense interest in the human costs of 21st century life has produced a terrific, heartbreaking book that's one of the year's best."
   —Vince Keenan, Movies. Crime Fiction. Baseball. Jazz. Cocktails (read the full review)

"[D]ark and densely layered . . . expertly written . . . Do They Know I'm Running? is a heartbreaking and often shocking look into the kind of stories most of us only glimpse through the news media. And it might be one of the best novels of this still-new year."
   —Alan Cranis, Bookgasm (read the full review)

"[David Corbett has] presented highbrow thriller fans another literate, emotional, and gritty nail biter entitled Do They Know I'm Running?, a novel that goes behind the demagogue-dominated debate about immigration into a complex, ambiguous, and suspenseful portrait of the treacherous world of human smuggling. It's an exciting story that rings with more truth about this issue than anything coming out of most of today's media.

Do They Know I'm Running? is also a worthy throwback to the novels of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene, where the heroes are not unflappable (and too-often boring) James Bond Übermenschen, but Ordinary Joes, drawn, shoved or tricked into extraordinary situations that awaken them to how things really are and force them to find out the right thing to do or die.

Do they Know I'm Running? is an exciting read that's written with a strong moral and political engagement that doesn't feel overly preachy. It provides a gallery of excellent character portraits of the good and bad alike and shows the interplay between people's angry, often contradictory, minds and the hard world in which they live.

David Corbett also just plain old writes beautifully in long lovely sentences that paint each character in granular detail, from the way they dress, through the weapons they carry and the music they listen to; and finally, to the ways some of them die and some of them live to fight on.

Every now and then I entertain gloomy thoughts that the time of literate, sophisticated genre fiction by literate, engaged writers has passed. It's so nice to be proven wrong."

   —Tom Burchfield, Open Salon (read the full review)

"With lyrical yet muscular prose, an ahead-of-the-headlines plot, and utterly believable characters, David Corbett's Do They Know I'm Running? is nothing short of superb. This is not just a thriller, but an elegant novel, full of heart, soul, music, food, cruelty, betrayal, poverty and love. The line runs through Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, straight on to David Corbett. I'm not kidding. He's that good."
   —John Lescroart

"A scintillating, politically fuelled mystery that grabs you by the heart and never, never lets up. Think Graham Greene writing today with the narrative drive of Michael Connelly. Borders—in every sense of the word—are transformed and manipulated by writing that seems as effortless as it is compelling. Rarely does a novel knock you totally out of the park; this one does. A major work of literary art that breaks all genre borders."
   —Ken Bruen

"David Corbett's new novel is a bold look into the darkness that is human-trafficking, a sharp revelation of the intended and unintended consequences of such evil. With powerful and observant prose he takes us on the smuggling routes, into the lives of those involved, the moments of terror and of hope. After reading Do They Know I'm Running? you can't plead ignorance anymore."
   —Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone

"Do They Know I'm Running? . . . reveals the author's incredible depth of knowledge and nuanced understanding of the human condition. This is fiction that reads like non-fiction, a searing gut-punch of a thriller that literally had me holding my breath while I read. Every scene and every character is so thoroughly imagined that you feel less like a distant observer and more like a fly on the wall. Hold on to your heart and be prepared to reconsider just how far you would go to protect the things that matter to you most."

   —Jill Lynch, Crimespree

"David Corbett's grainy realities bring these characters to life in all their beauty and ugliness . . . dragging the reader on a journey he or she won't soon forget."
   —Morgan Chilson, Fresh Fiction (read the full review)

"Do They Know I'm Running? is beautifully written, ambitious, honest, and thought-provoking."
   —Barbara Fister, Mystery Scene (read the full review)

". . . a heart-wrenching novel about family loyalty and the empty promises of the American dream for a Latino family."
   —Wendy Shortman, Daily Vanguard (Portland, OR) (read the full review)


Do They Know I'm Running? has generated the most generous and heartfelt communications from readers—and fellow writers—David has ever received, and he's been deeply touched by the thoughts so many people have taken the time to share. Here's a sampling:

"I just finished Do They Know I'm Running? and had to write you. The book is amazing—so powerful and beautifully written. I found myself in tears as I finished it, on the bus on my way to work no less. Thank you for writing a story so brutal and true and yet hopeful, I think, because of its humanity."
   —Rosemarie Keenan

The first Corbett novel I read was DONE FOR A DIME. I was impressed with everything about it. There is a grace to his writing style I was taken with. A compassion for the characters he'd created—even the unsympathetic ones, great pacing, a very exciting climax, and a satisfying and moving resolution.

As wonderful as it was, nothing in that novel quite prepared me for what I consider to be a masterpiece and the best crime-thriller published in 2010: DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING?. You are doing yourself a disservice if you fail to buy a copy of this brilliant novel and read it.

It is a powerfully moving, edge-of-your-seat thriller that I'd compare with the best of B. Traven or W. R. Burnett to name but two authors who have addressed the classic themes of oppression, tribulation, alienation, and redemption in their own thrillers.

Had I read the Corbett novel (published in 2007) that I'm currently reading—BLOOD OF PARADISE—I could have anticipated the inevitability of David writing as monumental a novel as DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING?.

But I didn't. Once I've finished with BLOOD OF PARADISE I intend to read David's first novel THE DEVIL'S REDHEAD which I only recently purchased.
   —G.A. Still (from comments submitted to Rara Avis)

"I just wanted you to know what a fine piece of writing Do They Know I'm Running? is. Since Robert Stone fell apart, Kent Anderson decided to take his damn time on book number three, and Richard Ford left off writing hard-edge fiction early on, there's been almost no one I envy and want to steal from, but you're getting marked and underlined, for sure. You seem to know even what you can't know (Iraq lore, e.g.), which is great, and your prose is really supple and interesting.
Anyway, keep it up. You're damn good."
   —John Shannon

"My father-in-law was finishing your book when I got home tonight. When I mentioned I met you, he right away asked, "Is he a cholo with a white boy's name?"

I said nope, a white boy.

He said, "He is a poet of my people."

   —Kirsten T. Saxton, Associate Professor, Department of English, Mills College

"Finished the last 200 pages today in a sitting, and it only got better as it went along. The love scene with Roque and Lupe was beautiful... loved the detail about her not knowing how to kiss. My heart was pounding during the action scenes, especially the last big shootout. Godo ... what a weirdly noble dude he turned out to be. Loved the explanation about who Samir was—the substance, also how you wove it into the story. I teared up at the end—the kindness of the rancher, and how it was tied to his own impending loss (don't tell anyone, as I have a hard-boiled image to maintain).
If instead of your name, mug, and bio, the book had been written by someone with a Latino name whose family had emigrated from El Salvador, I would have completely believed it. Bravo on creating such verisimilitude, and on the afterword in which you discuss what led to it.
Okay, enough gushing—just thanks for the great read."
   —Barry Eisler

"This may seem a strange thing to say about a novel, but I want to thank you for writing an honorable book. You not only make vivid what the sloganeering approach to immigration costs in human lives, your note at the end concerning racism shows an understanding of its cultural mechanism that is, I think, sadly rare. . . If I had to select a contemporary novel that might open minds . . . yours would be right up there. The novel does its imaginative work without being didactic about it. The essay is just a bonus."

With my respect and regard,

Jeffrey Spear, PhD, Associate Professor of English, NYU

"I have just finished Do They Know I'm Running? and I'm feeling something like shock. I can't begin to thank you enough for giving a voice to those who don't have one, for telling their story and giving them a face and a heart.
I work with a Latino community and have spent a little time in Nicaragua, a little more in Guatemala. I have seen enormous courage and strength in the face of abject poverty and abuse. What impressed me most on my first trip to Guatemala, and each time I went, was the lack of bitterness in the art and music and smiles, and the welcome they gave those of us from the US, though we all clearly knew the ugly history.
On my first trip, I noticed babies wrapped in replicas of our flag. Turns out this was in honor of 9/11. What does that say about the heart of those people?
When I first heard Mayan women pray, I felt like I was having an "out of body" experience. As the chants and replies increased, the wail started, I had a feeling that the voices were circling ever higher into the atmosphere, taking me with them. The energy was remarkable. I thought it was a "fluke," but no. It happened each time, and I now find myself longing for it."
   —Melanie Malovany

"I have just finished Do They Know I'm Running?. I know you have heard a thousand times, "What a great, well-written story," and it is. The purpose of this e-mail, however, is to urge you to make your end- of-book thoughts "Going Humbly" widely available on every social networking site. Your observations, and subsequent rational and emotional deductions, should be pondered by as many people as possible.

You and I have similar backgrounds, with me growing up in a small town in southern Iowa. I too was a friend to the few black Americans that I attended school with. Only when I got out into the wide world did I realize that there are many people who believe they have to put down other people to feel good about themselves. I had a twenty-one year career in the Air Force. I'm sure you know the military has, since 1948, been the most color-blind organization to be found. This, of course, does not mean there are no bigots or racists in the service. But they do have to keep their mouths and actions under control.

Now at age 84 I am fully retired and have lived in southern California for forty-three years. Here racism is all too prevalent with screams about the "illegals" and how they are bleeding our society of jobs and money. We both know this is total trash. The California economy would collapse without the undocumented doing the lousy, hard jobs. In everything I read they are afraid to seek help from the police, or seek badly needed medical services because ICE is always lurking nearby. A decent person's heart has to go out to them because the vast majority want only to be allowed to work and have a decent life.

Thanks for sticking with me as I rambled along. I want to thank you again for the "Going Humbly." Please do spread it around as far as possible."
   —Sincerely yours, Dwight Atkinson

"I just finished Do They Know I'm Running? Phew! You pack so much into a few sentences that it becomes poetry. Great damn job. I was just filled with gratitude that you wrote about these people and so well. Thank you for having that book in you and bringing it forth. Now to read the rest of your work (in reverse order)."
   —Rob Backus, Former Host, "Bright Moments: Great Black Music, Ancient to Future," WIDR-FM, Western Michigan University

"Just finished the novel. Had to put it aside for a bit. Between some of the gruelling shit your characters go through en route from El Salvador, combined with a story from my roommate's boyfriend about the cops here in Bolivia (Pol is an immigration officer), I got kinda spooked during my first few nights.

Nonetheless, I remain blown away. A solid mixture of the intimately personal with the far-reaching political, not to mention the distinctions you so vividly draw between Latin American cultures that most folks north of the border never bother to do. I could go on. Loved the afterword, as well.

Again, powerful, powerful shit."

   —Craig Clevenger, www.craigclevenger.com

"I just finished Do They Know I'm Running? and I want to express my thanks. As some background, I read a fair amount. Your book is amazing. It is powerful and authentic. How you were able to digest so many critical details is completely beyond me. I am impressed. Thank you for both the art that is your novel plus the social/political insight on immigration. Yours is a book I won't forget soon."
   —Larry Johnson



In an unfortunate oversight, the list I prepared of all those individuals who gave so generously of their time and expertise in the writing of Do They Know I'm Running? was inadvertently omitted from the first edition of the book. I very much hope to rectify that with subsequent editions. Until then, if you're interested in learning who provided invaluable guidance in the writing of the book (and I hope you do), please click here for the word document or here for the PDF.


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