Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: El Gavilan ~ by Craig McDonald

El Gavilan

Review by John for El Gavilan ~ by Craig McDonald

An unflinching tale of how three different US cops react to the wave of illegal immigration and try to maintain control amidst the turmoil.

About: Tell Lyon is an ex-border patrol officer who takes over as police chief in an Ohio town which is beset by a wave of immigration – much of it illegal. He soon bumps into county Sheriff Able Hawk (hawk is “gavilan” translated from Spanish, which provides the title for the book). They are two very different characters who approach their jobs in very different ways. Lyon is a fluent Spanish speaker who was married to a Mexican-American woman, before she was murdered by a Mexican gang who fire-bombed their house. While tough, he is keen to be fair and soon wins the trust of most of the local Latino population. Hawk, on the other hand, is a much rougher character who takes a very hard line with illegal immigrants and also has little tolerance for what he sees as weak federal government. But he is fiercely protective of legal immigrants, Latino or otherwise, and forms a strong bond with some of them.

After some initial sparring and testing each other out, the two agree to work together and soon find themselves pitted against the corrupt sheriff of a neighboring county, Walt Pierce, who will stop at nothing to maintain the peace in his territory. Matters quickly come to a head when Thalia Ruiz, a legal immigrant that Hawk had taken under his wing, is brutally raped and murdered and dumped in a spot close by the county line.

We learn the horrific back story of how Thalia’s family made the illegal journey into America several years previously, during which many of them died while walking across the Sonoran desert. Only a young child at the time, Thalia could never understand why they had left their tropical and bountiful home, but for her parents the siren call of the rich promised land to the north proved irresistible. The remnants of the family find the US anything but bountiful, barely managing to exist while having to take low-wage menial jobs. Over the years Thalia drifts north, eventually becomes legalized, and then loses her new husband in an explosion at a factory, leaving her to somehow care for their daughter on her own.

Thalia’s murder threatens to ignite the local Latino population, so Hawk and Lyon are determined to quickly solve the case, but they face an ugly battle with Pierce who insists that he has jurisdiction over the case. The growing tensions divide families as careers and more lives are threatened.

John’s thoughts: This is a great topic for a novel. Despite the sloganeering of many politicians who want to make immigration a simple black-and-white issue, this can only be seen as many colors of gray – which provides a lot of material that authors can use to create rich backdrops for their novels. And McDonald does a fine job of crafting an interesting plot that does provide a variety of perspectives on immigration.

At the same time this is a good police procedural novel, following the cops as they try to unravel a vicious crime, while at the same time getting tangled up in complex personal, career and inter-departmental issues. No-one comes out of this squeaky clean, though for sure some are a darn sight cleaner than others.

It is a fast-paced and easy-to-read novel that I devoured quickly. I would opine that it has a little too much going on it, resulting in some things seeming a little rushed or not adequately developed. The same thing goes for some of the characters, though I did like the way that McDonald developed the Lyon and Hawk personalities. They feel like good material for a movie or TV show; and I’m thinking there may be follow-up novels on the horizon?

Anyhow, overall I found it an enjoyable read and would rate it 3.5 stars. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a good police/thriller novel, and also to anyone who wants to read a story focused around immigration – a subject which doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention in novels.

432 pages | Tyrus Books | December 2011 (first published November 18th 2011)

See Craig McDonald’s website for more about this Edgar Award nominated journalist, editor and fiction writer, and his books: http://www.craigmcdonaldbooks.com/

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