La Frontera, by Sam HawkenAna Torres is a Texas Ranger assigned to a dusty outpost to protect the border. When she discovers the body of a dead crosser, the stage is set for an investigation and a confrontation in the nighttime desert.
Luis González lives on the Mexican side, helping those who seek a better life in the north while looking for peace in his own way.
Marisol Herrera, a border crosser, braves hardship and dangers on her journey from the high mountains of El Salvador to the sun-blasted flats of the Mexico/Texas border. She is alone, chasing a dream, but threatened by the realities of la frontera.  The stories of these three  intersect in the badlands of Texas and there will be death and pain and prices paid along the banks of the Rio Grande….

Following in the tradition of his first two novels, The Dead Women of Juarez and Tequilla Sunset, Hawken brings another glorious and affecting Mexico influenced novel with La Frontera. Cleverly intertwining three distinct and separate stories, Hawken manages to encompass the essential ills of South American and Mexican life, showing the desperation of those keen to enter America in the search of a better life, those that feed financially on this desperation, and the forces of law and order who seek to thwart their foolhardy attempts at escape. I can say with no compunction whatsoever that this book was so perfectly constructed that all three strands stood both singly and together as intensely powerful and accomplished pieces of writing. So often in split narrative books there is a story that does not hold the same level of interest in the reader, but Hawken so neatly side-steps this due to his vibrant and empathetic characterisation.

I felt that I really saw beneath the skin of all three protagonists, who all to some degree have their morality and sense of purpose severely tested and questioned as the story develops. Ana is a representative of the law, tracking border crossers, marking the locations of the sinister rape-trees, negotiating with landholders who have little time or sympathy for the border crossers, and proving her strength as a woman in an incredibly male-dominated environment. Luis is an ex-coyote, now dedicated to providing the essential supplies for potential border crossers, but who quickly discovers that his former life is not so easy to shrug off, which brings him into contact with Marisol, making her way from El Salvador and the inherent dangers this encompasses to get to Mexico on the the brink of reaching the promised land- America. Luis and Marisol’s stories in particular are truly touching, as Hawken affords the right level of sympathy and empathy with both, whatever the rights and wrongs of their actions, previously or now. I was absolutely rooting for Marisol, who shows such a strength and dignity as the story progresses in her single-minded determination to reach her goal, and those she protects along the way, mirrored in the actions of Luis.

I must confess that having read both of Hawken’s previous books, I was not expecting any deviation from the accomplished and gripping style that permeates his writing. I was quite right in this assumption, as La Frontera, merely strengthens my admiration for his writing with its perfect rendition of not only location, but the sustained and probing characterisation that underscores a compelling plot. Excellent.

fedMexican Federal Agent Marcos Camarena dedicated his life to the job. But in a country where white knights die meaningless deaths, martyred in a hole with fifty other headless bodies in the desert, corruption is not an attribute but a scale; no longer a stigma but the status quo.

Next to Christopher Irvin’s Federales, a slim and precise novella with a control of narrative that Irvin so regularly exhibits in his short story output. Focusing on Marcos, a veteran of Mexico’s notoriously corrupt and violent federal police, or federales, Irvin paints a picture of a man adrift in the moral abyss of those who hold themselves up as the defenders of this torn and violent society. Marcos is defined by his moral integrity in an organisation functioning immorally with bribes and pay-offs and the leaking of information, but comes to a crisis point where he can stomach the illegality rife in his department no longer, and cannot sink to the depths of his colleagues’ actions. He takes a job as a personal bodyguard to Eva Santos, the former mayor of a small town on the Mexican coast, who has proved herself to be a vociferous and outspoken challenger to the powerful drug cartels, based on the real life political figure of Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who was assassinated in Mexico, through her condemnation of the cartels. What follows is a poignant, but ultimately tragic portrayal of Marcos’ endeavours to protect Eva and her daughter Clara, from the the insidious reach of the most corrupt sphere of Mexican society.

The writing is defined by its sparsity, and leaves more said by what is evidently unsaid, in the chosen narrative style, and is made all the more powerful and vital for it. It is a moral tale without being preachy, and a fitting tribute to those who seek to buck the status quo that the corruption and influence of the cartels wreaks on Mexican life. A short but satisfying and emotive read.

About the authors:

Sam Hawken is a novelist whose mainstream publishing career began in 2011 with the publication in the United Kingdom of THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUÁREZ, a crime novel that used the real-life tragedy of female homicides in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez as the stepping-off point for a story of corruption, despair and tragedy. It was shortlisted by the Crime Writers Association for the John Creasy New Blood Dagger. TEQUILA SUNSET followed in 2012, returning once again to Ciudad Juárez and its sister city, El Paso, Texas. This time Hawken drew upon the legacy of the infamous gang Barrio Azteca, at one time responsible for over 80% of the murders in Juárez, formerly the murder capital of the world. Once again, the Crime Writers Association recognized Hawken’s work, nominating TEQUILA SUNSET for the Gold Dagger (best crime novel of the year). Trained as an historian, Sam Hawken leans on his scholastic background to create books with solid connections to the real world, while also telling human stories in the crime-fiction genre. Though he no longer counts Texas as his home, he has not left the American Southwest behind. His third traditionally published novel, LA FRONTERA, appeared in December 2013, with a fourth, MISSING, coming in 2014. A self-published release from 2013, JUÁREZ DANCE, mines this same fruitful territory. Follow on Twitter @samhawken / www.samhawken.com/

Christopher Irvin has traded all hope of a good night’s rest for the chance to spend his mornings writing dark and noir fiction. His short stories have appeared in several publications, including Thuglit, Noir Nation, and Shotgun Honey. His debut novella, FEDERALES, is out now from One Eye Press. He lives with his wife and son in Boston, Massachusetts. Follow on Twitter @chrislirvin / http://christopherirvin.net/

 

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