To many Americans, Mexico has always seemed a land of erotic temptation and great danger. Writers as different as Jack Kerouac, Katherine Anne Porter, and Tennessee Williams have depicted the journey southward as a descent into the nether regions of the human heart. Comes now Robert James Waller, bard of the Iowa farm wife, with a violent, erotic Mexican tale of his own the story of a professional assassin with a heart of gold, and the passionate, full-breasted peasant woman who learns to love him. With any luck at all, Puerto Vallarta Squeeze will do for Uzis and sniperscopes what The Bridges of Madison County did for light meters and covered bridges. And if Clint Eastwood wants to play the lead role in the film version...Well, actually he's played it before 15 or 20 times.
What happens, see, is that there's this hack writer named Danny Pastor hanging out in a Mexican bar when he sees this hit go down. A lean, handsome, silver-haired stranger whips out an automatic pistol and drops a man as matter-of-factly as a National Geographic photographer snapping a sunset. It all happens so fast, Danny's the only one who notices.
Anyhow, before you can say ''Pancho Villa,'' the killer has followed Danny and his knockout Mexican girlfriend to a second bar, where he makes Danny a proposition: $5,000 cash for a ride to the U.S. border. Sure it's risky, but Danny figures to pocket the dough and market the stranger's story a surefire best-seller, he figures. What he doesn't figure on is the hitman's effect on Luz María. But then, how could Danny know he's a character in a Robert Waller novel, where the tough-but-tender, deeply masculine, fiftysomething loner always gets the girl?
Now, Clayton Price isn't your ordinary contract murderer. ''Way back in another time,'' we're told, ''he might have been something else, a sailor on one of Cook's voyages or a mountain man in the high evergreens.'' But his parents abandoned him, and Vietnam scarred his conscience and left him out there on the moral frontier, protecting the rest of us from ''the bad guys.'' Gee, where have we met this character before? Jack Nicholson? Harrison Ford? Except our hero's no craven organization man, like, say, a Tom Clancy hero. He's a lone wolf who's got CIA black hats on his trail, too. And on Danny's and Luz María's as well. So will they make it to Texas before love redeems the flinty killer's soul? Only a cad would tell. C-