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December 30, 2011 / John Sheridan

Review: El Gavilan by Craig McDonald

This novel represents my introduction to Craig McDonald’s work as although his Hector Lassiter series comes highly recommended I haven’t read any of those yet and sometimes a standalone book provides an easier point of entry.

El Gavilan follows the fortunes of two lawmen, the first is the titular character of Sheriff Able Hawk aka El Gavilan and the second is the recently appointed Chief of Police, a former Border Patrol officer, Tell Lyons. Hawk is a complex character who is zealous in his pursuit of illegal immigrants but is also learning Spanish in order to deal with the associated problems better.

Tell has recently lost his family in a fire as a result of a vendetta by a cartel transporting illegal immigrants across the border. The back story of Tell Lyons is rendered in a heartbreaking manner particularly the death of his wife and child in circumstances which leave you supporting the revenge exacted on their killers and accomplices which in other situations may be unconscionable. Both lead characters are neither black nor white but comprised of shades of grey which makes it more difficult to predict their actions which makes it an all the more satisfying read.

On starting his new job as Chief of Police, Tell immediately comes into conflict with the fire service over their callous disregard for the Mexicans in their midst but Hawk steps up in support of him versus the fire officials and an alliance is formed. The central storyline concerns the rape and murder of a waitress, Thalia Ruiz, herself of Mexican descent who has formed a friendship with Hawk. The portrait of the original meeting of Thalia and Hawk following the accident at her husbands plant is especially powerful and provides further insight into Hawk’s character.

Flashbacks point suspicion re the murder in the direction of another county sheriff in addition to the pointed references to his hands and rings, evidence to the brutal beating Thalia suffered prior to her death. A twist in the storyline reveals that there is more than meets the eye in the distribution of false papers to illegals. As easy as it was for Tell to expose Hawk’s weak spot so it proves to be his vulnerability elsewhere with potentially devastating consequences for Tell as well as Hawk. As Tell’s new relationship develops one can sense a corresponding rise in what is at stake for him and also the impending threat.

An awesome novel that starkly illustrates the difference between justice and the law with a powerhouse conclusion. I loved it. Do yourself a favour and seek this one out.


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