The border between El Paso and Juárez is a conduit for drugs moving from Mexico to the U.S. and for guns moving in the opposite direction. Hawken sets this tense thriller on that violence-riddled fault line, following the activities of Flip Morales, an ex-con reluctantly working for the Azteca gang; Christina Salas, an El Paso cop in the anti-gang unit; and Matias Segura, a Mexican federal agent who has teamed with the FBI to bring down Los Aztecas on both sides of the border. The drug war wears an agonizingly human face in the drama that unfolds, as Hawken shows us the personal lives of his main characters and makes clear the toll that border life takes on the individuals trapped in its web. Finally, though, this is a thriller and a very good one. Tension builds inexorably, as we creep closer to the inevitable final conflagration. Hawken’s understated but razor-sharp prose never gets in the way of the building tension, but the focus remains not on issues but on the people who are pulled into conflict, as if by the magnetic field of the border itself. Powerful stuff. --Bill Ott
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"'Hawken trades in gritty realism' (Irish Times) 'His debut novel is a hard-boiled plunge into damaged lives that grippingly evokes the dust, decay and pervading sense of death in Juarez, leaving you with a lingering sense of sweaty unease' (Metro) 'A tense, gripping read and a plea for justice' (Sunday Times)"