El Gavilan Hardcover – Dec 18 2011
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"As sobering and as urgent as tomorrow's headlines, this searing novel traces the struggle of the residents of fictional New Austin, Ohio, to cope with out-of-control illegal Latino immigrants. McDonald deftly balances his 'now' against the 'then' backstory as he dissects one of America's most tormenting social problems."
--Publisher's Weekly, starred review
About the Author
His debut novel, Head Games, was published by Bleak House Books in September 2007. Head Games was selected as a 2008 Edgar®nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author. Head Games was also a finalist for the Anthony, Gumshoe and Crimespree Magazine awards for best first novel.
His nonfiction books include Art in the Blood, a collection of interviews with 20 major crime authors which appeared in 2006, and Rogue Males: Conversations and Confrontations About the Writing Life, a second collection of interviews published by Bleak House Books in 2009.
McDonald was also a contributor to the NYT's nonfiction bestseller, Secrets of the Code. He recently won national awards for his profiles of crime novelists James Crumley, Daniel Woodrell, James Sallis and Elmore Leonard.
He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Association of Crime Writers, Sisters in Crime and a contributing columnist to Crimespree Magazine.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
El Gavilan tells the immigration story from several viewpoints, including a child crossing the harsh desert to the U.S. with her family and a former Border Patrol agent who lost his family to the war on immigration. Both were changed forever, but perhaps not in the way you might expect.
Sadly, this book reads more like a screenplay than a novel. You can't help but feel that you are being cheated as the story races along at breakneck speed, spinning by plot points as if checking them off a list. The story is good. The characters are good. I would have loved a little more time to explore them both. If that is not possible, perhaps the author will indulge us with a book featuring Cousin Chris?
My verdict: Read it! I would have liked a little more depth in parts, but all in all it is a good, engaging story.
New Austin is a fictional south central Ohio town that is roiling in the clash of cultures between Latinos and Anglos. Horton County Sheriff Able Hawk (Hawk is "gavilan" in Spanish) is a complex character who is Joe Arpaio -- the controversial sheriff of Maricopa County Arizona, the greater Phoenix area -- tough on gangs and illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America. He blogs about illegal immigrants and sends bills to the federal government for reimbursement of expenses incurred when illegals are jailed. But the widowed Hawk is fiercely protective of the county's legal immigrants of Hispanic origin.
When Ohio native and former California based Border Patrol officer Tell Lyon arrives in New Austin as the city's newly appointed police chief, the two dance briefly around in a macho display but soon agree to cooperate in law enforcement in the county, if only because the corrupt sheriff in neighboring Vale County make cooperation mandatory. Tell got his name from a character, Tell Sackett, by Louis L'Amour, a writer his dad loved.
Lyon, a fluent Spanish speaker, quickly gains the trust of most of the county's Hispanic community, and is dubbed "El Leon" -- the lion. His Mexican-American California-born wife and their daughter were murdered by Mexican criminals and Lyon is still mourning their deaths in a house-firebombing when he meets lovely Patricia Maldonado, 15 years younger, ambitious for education and the daughter of the couple, Kathleen and Augustin, who run the county's best Mexican restaurant. Tension increases when Patricia ends her brief but torrid relationship with Shawn O'Hara, editor of the town's weekly newspaper.
The novel toggles back and forth with "Now" and "Then" chapters, providing context for the events. For instance, we learn how Thalia Ruiz, a New Austin resident and a widow with a young daughter after her husband died in a propane gas explosion, fared in the deadly journey from her home in Mexico to "El Norte" the now greatly diminished promised land for Latinos. When the now grown up Thalia is brutally raped and murdered and her body dumped near a sports field close to the county line, Able "El Gavilan" Hawk is faced with a jurisdictional dilemma when the corrupt and brutal sheriff of adjoining Vale County, Walt Pierce, says the body is in his county. Thalia was one of the Hispanics under Able Hawk's protection and he vows to bring her murderer -- or murderers -- to justice.
Tell Lyon acquires the nickname "Leon" when he gets into a fight with a non-Spanish speaking firefighter during a fatal house fire. He says first responders must learn enough basic Spanish to deal with the town's growing Hispanic community. His influence grows when he translates for New Austin's mayor at a Hispanic fiesta.
"El Gavilan" is a nuanced thriller with very graphic sex scenes and equally graphic violence (I would give it a hard R or a NR if it were a movie, which I'd like to see made from this book). The novel is a reminder that Hispanic immigration -- both legal and illegal -- is a major element in the demographics of the Midwest and other areas far from the nation's southern borders.
Reading this book is like watching an Ed Wood movie. And believe me, I mean no disrespect either to Ed Wood or the author in saying that. Just finding all the errors becomes an obsession in and of itself. Seriously, get a group of friends together and see who can find the most errors.
The Hispanic women who are depicted here are all described as sexual objects. And the male characters pretty much look at them as such. And for men that want to imagine a fantasy world where any woman will be an easy conquest, this book will fill that need.
The character names also provide a certain amount of amusement. Able Hawk? Tell Lyon? Give me a break. I am just glad that the author's Hispanic characters are too stereotypical to have been given very creative names.
The funniest part of the story line is that Able and Tell seem to be so in sync in terms of anticipating everything they should do to move the case forward. And yet they fail to even identify the most obvious suspect when it's staring them in the face.
And yet for a certain kind of mindless entertainment, this book does have some compelling features. Several of these cookie cutter characters could easily be the basis of a movie or a serial. TV shows and movies have been made out of much less.
It's ridiculous reading all the hype that this book is a serious look at the immigration issue. This is a pulp novel where the author telegraphs the "whodunit" very early on, making it hard to call it a mystery. He fills in the story with sophomoric descriptions of Mexico and the border crossing ordeal, as well as plenty of gratuitous sex and innuendo to satisfy male readers. And along the way, he makes his characters display extremely offensive views and behaviors in order to manipulate readers into relating to his exaggerated immigrant story line. And yet just like a gruesome train wreck, I could not look away. I can't really tell you to avoid this read. As long as you don't treat this too seriously, you might actually get some enjoyment out of this one depending on your tastes.
Last year while traveling on the Ohio Turnpike my husband and I encounterd several border patrol cars at a rest area and jokingly said what are you doing here only to be told that Ohio is one of the hottest illegal crossing areas in the country. Wow! We never knew. So when I heard about this book, I really wanted to read what McDonald would do with the situation and setting. I couldn't put the book down, it has interesting, multi-faceted characters, a good mystery and I can't wait to read his next book.
Abel Hawk, the most senior of the three lawmen and sheriff of Horton County, is a hard-line enforcer with respect to the illegals in his town. He blogs about illegal immigration and bills the federal government for the expense of jailing undocumented individuals whom he has arrested. Yet, he is extremely protective of the Latinos in his community who are legal. Tell Lyon, a former Border Patrol officer, lost his family to a violent drug lord's revenge; in an attempt to put the past behind him, he has come to New Austin as police chief. Walt Pierce, Vale County sheriff and the third lawman, is a vicious and territorial individual. The rape and murder of Thalia Gomez Ruiz, whom Abel knows and respects, precipitates the events that will eventually ensnare all three lawmen, their families, and their communities.
Alternating between "Then" and the current setting, "El Gavilan" was best in those portions addressing Thalia's journey to the United States. The hardships of crossing the border illegally are well written and evoke sympathy for the Gomez family. This is when Craig McDonald's writing is at its best. The mystery surrounding Thalia's murder is, for the reader, resolved early in the novel. Characters seemed to be fairly standard representations of the roles they were assigned within "El Gavilan." More conservative readers will likely find the violence, the descriptions of sexual situations, and language used within the novel off-putting.
Craig McDonald's "El Gavilan" is not a book for every reader. It would probably be rated 3.5 stars if that were an option.