Part serious novel and part thriller, with a large dose of drug lit, former Dunsmuir News reporter Tony D’Souza’s newest book, “Mule,” is hard to put down. And not just because it’s set, partly, in Siskiyou County.

Part serious novel and part thriller, with a large dose of drug lit, former Dunsmuir News reporter Tony D’Souza’s newest book, “Mule,” is hard to put down. And not just because it’s set, partly, in Siskiyou County.

Mule is the story of James, a young freelance journalist whose career just went down the recessionary toilet. When his girlfriend Kate learns she’s pregnant, the two return  to her hometown of Dunsmuir to lick their wounds and get back on their feet.

While living in a small, quiet cabin near the Sacramento River waiting for the birth of their daughter, James makes a connection with one of Kate’s childhood friends who is now wealthy and runs a major marijuana grow operation near McCloud.

Desperate to provide a good life for his family, James embarks on a cross-country drive to deliver “prime-grade Siskiyou kush” from Dunsmuir to Florida. At the end of the nerve-wracking journey with a 10 pound brick of pot wrapped as a Christmas gift in the back of his old Subaru, he’ll have made enough money to get by for a few months.

Once he gets a taste of the money, however, James slides deeper into the drug world and goes from making just one “weight move” to making thousands of dollars a day.

James quickly learns to deal with unreliable, money hungry friends, gun-toting drug lords and a wife who loves the money – maybe more than she loves him. As the stakes get higher, James must keep dark secrets from Kate. His morals are eroded until he’s transformed from a sharp, level-headed guy to a man who’s capable of violence – maybe even murder.

As I devoured the book, I fretted the entire time about James, hoping at every turn of the page that he would change his mind and get out of the mess.

D’Souza’s concise dialogue and crystal clear character made it hard to remember that James is not flesh and blood. It’s also hard to see him as a bad guy – much the same as it’s hard to dislike Ray Liotta’s character Henry Hill in the 1990 Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas.”

Mule is a timely novel which explores desperation, dreams, and what a person will do to accomplish those dreams in today’s world of recession and joblessness. The novel begins in 2006 right before the economy tanks, and accurately describes an era where opportunities which were taken for granted have been pulled out from under us.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mule – as much or more than the movie Goodfellas – perhaps because I can easily imagine people in my generation following James down Interstate 5, drugs in the trunk and all.

Even if I didn’t know the author, I would have been hooked by the book’s second page. As a Siskiyou County native, it was pretty cool to open the Mule and find references to the town of Dunsmuir, the beauty of?Mt. Shasta, the vast solitude of the Marble Mountains and all the little idiosyncrasies of Northern California.

Perhaps most entertaining of all were mentions of an undercover Siskiyou County drug bust, involving a young Sheriff’s deputy posing as a high school student – and the eventual arrest of a Mount Shasta councilperson – or maybe that’s because the actual bust was one of the first big stories I covered as a Mount Shasta Herald reporter in 2009.

D’Souza, who worked as a local reporter in 2008, said he used his time living in Dunsmuir as inspiration for the novel.

“I loved writing about Siskiyou,” D’Souza said. “I hope the folks up there can see my love for the place through a pretty crazy story!”

Earlier this month, Mule was optioned by Hunting Lane Films to be made into a movie. Hunting Lane has produced such films as Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling, and Ice Cube’s Straight Outta LA.

Born and raised in Chicago, D’Souza earned Masters degrees in writing from Hollins University and the University of Notre Dame.

He has contributed to The New Yorker, Playboy, Salon, Esquire, Outside and elsewhere, and has appeared on Dateline, The Today Show, the BBC, NPR, and many other venues.

Tony's first novel, “Whiteman,” received the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His second novel, “The Konkans,” was called a ‘best novel of the year’ by the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Poets & Writers Magazine.

His reporting about the Altoona Mine cleanup  for the Mount Shasta Area Newspapers earned him two first place awards in the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association’s Better Newspapers Contest.

Mule is available online at Amazon.com or at Village Books in Mount Shasta.