It's difficult to find a good book that explores the tensions in the nation's heartland fueled by both legal and illegal immigration, but I think Craig McDonald has aced it in "El Gavilan" , a novel that the author has said was inspired by true events,
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.