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Tequila Sunset
Tequila Sunset
Price: $8.53

5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling look at three lives caught up in border violence, September 24, 2014
This review is from: Tequila Sunset (Kindle Edition)
Matías Segura, a member of the Policía Federal Ministerial in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, has seen more than his share of dead bodies. From gang members gunned down in the streets in broad daylight to mass graves and scenes of unspeakable torture and brutality, dealing with the carnage that flows from the Mexican drug trade has become a part of Segura’s daily routine.

Just across the border in El Paso, Texas, Detective Cristina Salas is all too aware of the atrocities occurring far to close to home for comfort. When in the course of her work with the El Paso Gang Unit she learns of a possible connection between the notorious Mexico-based Barrio Aztecas and gang activity in her city, she is determined to do whatever it takes to make sure El Paso doesn’t become another Ciudad Juárez-style killing field.

Caught in the middle is Felipe “Flip” Morales, a minor criminal who ended up in prison when one of his crimes took a turn for the unexpectedly serious with devastating results. Unfortunately for Flip, while in prison he became indebted to the Barrio Aztecas, who provided Flip with protection from the other gangs inside. Now free from confinement, Flip is far from free of the hold the Aztecas have on him. Though he has the support of a loving mother and the inspiration of a new girlfriend to fuel his desire to go straight, the Aztecas have other ideas for Flip’s future.

How the lives of those three characters intersect forms the basis for multiple CWA Dagger Award nominee Sam Hawken’s Tequila Sunset. The subject matter—the cross-border trade in drugs and guns and its resulting violence—is not new territory, but few have shown the ability to handle the topic with the deft combination of matter-of-fact brutality and despair infused with just enough hope to take the edge off as Hawken has consistently demonstrated in his work. Like his previous forays across the border, The Dead Women of Juárez and Juárez Dance, in Tequila Sunset Hawken does not make the mistake of trying to glamorize the violence. Rather, he tackles the subject head-on, allowing both his characters and the reader to feel the brunt of a culture that threatens to overrun the Mexican side of the border and spill over into Texas.

Unlike in The Dead Women of Juárez, however, where the characters were necessarily hardened and tottering on the brink of losing all hope of a way out, those who populate Tequila Sunset are cut from stronger cloth and are less willing to throw in the towel. Despite the very real threat of being swallowed up by violence and evil, Matías, Cristina and Flip all see the light, both at the end of the tunnel as well as in themselves and (the potential for it) in those around them. They are unwilling to roll over, instead choosing to fight for a better world even at great personal risk. Through their fight, Hawken is able to put faces on an issue that has become so pervasive and amorphous that it threatens to lose its sense of humanity.

The fact is, there are real people on both sides of the border—good people who want nothing more than to lead violence-free, productive lives—struggling with these issues on a daily basis, and in Tequila Sunset Hawken masterfully shows us how three such people step up to the challenge.

The Night Visitor
The Night Visitor
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Electrically Compelling Read, September 24, 2014
This review is from: The Night Visitor (Kindle Edition)
Up-and-coming artist Junior Lara returns home one night to find all the windows open and his loft apartment filled with doves. As he makes his way through the dark rooms shooing the birds out and closing widows behind them, a deep feeling of unease overtakes him as he realizes something very wrong has occurred—all of his canvases are in tatters, ripped to shreds. When he slips in a patch of something wet, but disturbingly sticky, Junior barely has time to comprehend he’s stepped in the blood of his girlfriend, supermodel Anya Langtry, whose lifeless eyes stare up at him from the floor, before he has a terrible sense of falling…and everything goes black.

And with that wonderfully eerie, atmospheric opening, The Night Visitor, the newest offering from LA Times bestselling author Dianne Emley, is off and running.

Fast forward five years, where we learn Junior survived being shot in the head that night…if you call being in a persistent vegetative state surviving. We also learn that his girlfriend was an illicit one, and that in fact Junior had been engaged to Anya’s sister, Rory, at the time. The police have long since written off the events that occurred that evening as a murder/failed suicide, a theory that Rory and Anya’s family agrees with. Junior’s family, on the other hand, believes it was Rory who shot both Anya and Junior in a jealous rage upon learning of their affair. Under the skilled and nuanced storytelling of Emley, the reader is taken on a journey that reveals the truth to be far more complicated that anyone could possibly have imagined.

Though Rory has moved on with her life, building a cosmetics empire and getting engaged to a successful LA attorney, the lives of the Langtry and Lara families are far from through being intertwined. When a new tragedy strikes that awakens in Rory a connection with Junior that calls into question everything she thought she knew to be true about the events of that night five years ago, she’s drawn into a mystery that will take more than normal sleuthing to solve.

The Night Visitor, a standalone novel, is somewhat of a departure for Emley, who is best known for her Detective Nan Vining thrillers and the Iris Thorne mystery series. On the surface, The Night Visitor is an engaging, entertaining mystery, but there is more going on at a deeper level. The story has a supernatural edge not present in any of Emley’s previous work, and Emley deftly uses that wrinkle to explore the nature of the ties that bind people together, probing whether there is, in fact, a deeper level of connection possible than what we consciously perceive in our everyday interactions.

As Emley has revealed, she has personally gone through the experience of having a family member in a deep coma followed by an extended period of questionable state of consciousness, and that experience informs the storytelling in The Night Visitor in a way that adds an undeniable verisimilitude to events, elevating them above a simple jaunt into the paranormal—there is real, painful soul searching going on, potentially life-changing questions being asked and answers to same being sought. And that combination of a well-written whodunnit intertwined with some deeper philosophical exploration makes for an electrically compelling read.

Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities
Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities
Price: $4.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From tongue-in-cheek humor to in your face brutal, with a solid backbone of intelligence and incisiveness running throughout, April 21, 2014
I first came across David James Keaton’s writing via the short “Mosquito Bites,” which was included in the outstanding Pulp Modern. The story is told from the perspective of a recently paroled con whose determination to stay straight is immediately derailed by a betrayal, and includes a passage so descriptively disgusting – and I mean that in a good way – that it still makes me shudder when I think about it.

I immediately began seeking out other work by him, not too difficult considering he has appeared in over 50 publications, including Noir at the Bar, Chicago Quarterly Review, Thuglit, Beat To A Pulp, Needle and Grift. Still, I wanted more, and so was very happy for both Keaton and myself when he announced awhile back that he had been signed and would be releasing a collection of his works under the title Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities.

As the title implies, the collection of 30 stories, which includes the aforementioned “Mosquito Bites,” all revolve in some way, shape or form around people in positions of authority, specifically police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Unlike the heroic light in which those first responders are often cast, however, Keaton’s stories all explore a decidedly darker aspect of those in uniform, taking an unflinching look into the shadows at the occasionally less than honorable motives some men have for seeking positions of power and authority.

Of course, the other characters populating the stories aren’t exactly upstanding, mentally stable individuals themselves, the result of which is a collection of train wrecks waiting to happen as seriously flawed antiheroes hurtle headlong through their screwed up lives on collision courses with even more flawed villains, often leaving the reader wondering exactly whom the real criminal was. The stories range from short bursts of just a couple pages to a few that have some significant heft to them, and vary in tone from borderline horror to surreal to unapologetically pulpy.

Over the course of the collection, Keaton deftly demonstrates that he’s as at home writing the intense as he is the irreverent (check out his novella Zee Bee & Bee (a.k.a. Propeller Hats for the Dead) for a serious shot of the irreverent), as the tone easily drifts from tongue-in-cheek humor to in your face brutal, with a solid backbone of intelligence and incisiveness running throughout it all. Packed with dark humor and even darker violence, Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities is not a collection for the timid. It is, however, a powerful showcase of writing, one which should solidly establish Keaton as a “must read” author.

Paying The Piper
Paying The Piper
Price: $1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cat-and-mouse battle with a master villain, August 29, 2013
This review is from: Paying The Piper (Kindle Edition)
Eight years ago a serial kidnapper known as the Piper terrorized San Francisco. He successfully snatched child after child from the city's wealthiest families, holding them until a ransom was paid. In every case, he collected the ransom and returned the child unharmed. Until crime reporter Scott Fleetwood got involved, that is. Contacted by someone claiming to be the Piper, Fleetwood withheld information from the police and FBI, bent on chasing the story-and resulting book deal and fame. Only Fleetwood wasn't really dealing with the Piper, merely a wannabe copycat.

What should have been simply a career embarrassment turned into a disaster, however, when the Piper killed the child he was holding at the time of Fleetwood's spectacular blunder then disappeared without a trace. The resulting backlash from the public, his employer, police and FBI branded Fleetwood with a scarlet letter, though arguably no one was harder on him than he was on himself.

Now the Piper has returned, apparently up to his old games. Except, this time it's about more than money. With the selection of one of Fleetwood's own sons as the first target in his renewed career, the Piper serves notice that he's come out of retirement for more than money-he's back to collect his pound of flesh as well.

In Paying the Piper, author Simon Wood has crafted the ultimate page-turner. After all, what could possibly be more compelling than a man doing cat-and-mouse battle with a master villain, with the life of his son at stake? The pace is relentless, as is the Piper's determination to exact revenge for what he sees as being Fleetwood's fault that the Piper was "forced" to cross a line he never had before and kill. Neither Fleetwood nor the reader gets a second to rest, with Wood rocketing events along at breakneck pace toward a showdown and conclusion which, while craftily unfurled, is possible for the careful reader to potentially deduce.

On a deeper level, however, there are some very interesting character studies going on as well. Though on the one hand Fleetwood obviously wants his son back, on another level, one he almost can't consciously control, he also sees the situation as a chance for redemption. As a result, he's not content to sit back and do what the authorities request of him, instead choosing to insert himself into the case, often over their objections. Naturally, this leads to more than a few confrontations, especially with the FBI.

FBI agent Tom Sheils was involved in the first Piper investigation, and his absolute loathing and contempt for Fleetwood have simmered to the boiling over point in the eight years since the two last saw each other. As the new Piper investigation unfolds, Sheils is constantly forced to reconcile his feeling of disgust about Fleetwood's past actions with the fact that in the current situation Fleetwood and his wife are the victims, and that a little boy's life hangs in the balance.

All of which adds up to a book that strikes a nifty balance between popcorn action and something more substantive. If you're looking for a fast-paced beach read, but one with a little depth, look no farther than Paying the Piper.

No Show
No Show
by Simon Wood
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.99
45 used & new from $0.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fast-paced, twisting ride with a "didn't see that coming" ending, August 28, 2013
This review is from: No Show (Paperback)
Despite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he's ready to start his new life with American wife, Sarah. The two met while on holiday in Costa Rica, and after a whirlwind romance were married. Now, after being apart for 6 months due to bureaucratic red tape, things have finally lined up for the newlyweds.

Only, Sarah isn't there to meet him at the airport. After waiting for several hours, hoping she was just stuck in traffic, Terry finally takes a shuttle to "their" house, a place he's never actually been. Sarah isn't there either, which forces Terry to break in...something a watchful neighbor dutifully reports to the local sheriff. A brief arrest and long explanation later, Terry is left with a skeptical sheriff, wary new neighbors, and still no wife.

Terry can find no explanation for her disappearance, but does find evidence that she left voluntarily-there's no sign of struggle in the house and a bag, some clothes and personal items seem to be missing-and has to wonder if the police are right: did the woman he married just get cold feet and take off?

When a dead woman fitting Sarah's description turns up, her tongue cut out, Terry's brought to the scene to identify the body. He's relieved to see that it's not her, but disturbed that the sheriff now sees solving the murder as more important than finding Sarah, whom the sheriff is still not convinced didn't just run off. It isn't until more women start turning up dead that the sheriff begins to entertain the idea there may be some connection, but the connection he's looking for isn't exactly the one Terry had in mind.

Given her profession of freelance investigative journalist, Terry's forced to wonder if Sarah's disappearance has something to do with a story she's working on. But if it does, was the disappearance deliberate, or sinister? And what, if anything, do the dead women have to do with it? Only adding to his frustration and anxiety, the place where he's lined up a job, biotech company Genavax, isn't exactly what he was expecting. Actually, nothing about what he finds-or doesn't, as the case may be-in America is quite what he was expecting. In fact, the more Terry pokes around, the more complicated things become.

As do all his books, Simon Wood gets No Show off to a galloping start, plunging both Terry and the reader immediately into mystery and confusion from the moment Terry steps off the plane. Terry's status as an outsider, not just new to town but to the very country, provides Wood with fertile ground for tension, miscommunication, and appropriately timed doses of wry humor. It, and the couple's brief courtship, also provides Wood with the chance to explore the very nature of relationships-particularly those of a romantic nature-and to ask how well does anyone really know someone...even the person they're married to.

There's nothing especially groundbreaking about the plot of No Show, and there's nothing wrong with that. Not every book needs to contort itself into a pretzel trying to prove how clever and original it is. No, Wood is happy to just dig in, grab the reader's interest, and tell a page-turning mystery/whodunnit story, and you'll be more than happy to go along for the fast-paced, twisting, "didn't see that coming" ending of a ride.

Pushover: Iris Thorne Mysteries - Book 5
Pushover: Iris Thorne Mysteries - Book 5
by Dianne Emley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.41
34 used & new from $6.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emley saved the best for last, July 8, 2013
Having worked her way up to the position of branch manager at the brokerage firm of McKinney Alitzer in downtown Los Angeles, Iris Thorne is pretty confident she can handle anything life throws at her. That is until her ex-fiancé, Todd Fillinger, calls up with a major investment opportunity for Iris in Russia. Her instincts tell her to skip the trip and let the past be the past, but lingering guilt over the way their relationship ended-Iris left Todd at the altar, in Paris no less-overrides Iris's instincts and she finds herself on a plane to Russia.

Almost immediately upon her arrival it becomes apparent something isn't quite right with the situation, or Todd. When pressed, Todd admits he's been having trouble with the Russian mafia, which is trying to elbow in on Todd's art brokerage business. The seriousness of the situation is made graphically clear when, as Iris looks on in horror, Todd is gunned down outside the restaurant where the two were to have dinner.

Initially taken in for questioning by the Russian police, and a shady man who doesn't identify himself, Iris is eventually extracted from the sticky situation by a member of the US Consulate. Feeling a sense of obligation to Todd now more than ever, Iris agrees to carry an urn containing his ashes back to the US for delivery to Todd's sister, figuring it's the least she can do. If only she'd trusted her instincts and never gotten on that plane to begin with...

Iris has no sooner landed and delivered the urn to Todd's sister, who meets Iris at the airport, when she finds herself up to her eyes in threats and conspiracies, with everyone from the FBI to a decidedly determined and dangerous art thief to the Russian mafia demanding Iris turn over a priceless, and stolen, statue they are all under the impression she has returned from Russia with. Now Iris has to figure out a way to get to the bottom of things before she gets arrested, or killed.

As author Dianne Emley has been so kind to share in her retrospective on the Iris Thorne series, the evolution of Iris is really both the evolution of a character and a writer. With every book since her introduction in Cold Call, Iris has noticeably progressed as a character, evolving from that of a somewhat superficial and borderline irresponsible pseudo-adult into a more responsible and reasoned woman. It's a progression fueled in no small part by Emley's own growth as a writer, the evolving confidence in Iris mirroring that of Emley in her own ability as an author.

Indeed, Pushover, the fifth and (for now) final entry in the series, shows yet another leap forward. While Iris herself had grown in depth and complexity with each previous outing (Cold Call, Slow Squeeze, Fast Friends, Foolproof), it is in Pushover that the seeds for what was to come next for Emley are clearly sown from a pacing and plot point of view. Whereas the previous Thorne books tended to be more rooted in the mystery arena, Pushover has a noticeable infusion of the thriller genre, complete with international intrigue, conspiracies, shootouts and double crosses. Pushover clearly set the table for what was to come: The First Cut, the first entry in Emley's (ongoing) Detective Nan Vining series, in which Iris actually makes a cameo appearance.

Not many authors would take the time-or be brave enough-to rerelease a series which saw its initial publication two decades ago...and to "resist the urge to make major changes, wanting to respect the books as they had been published." I, for one, am incredibly happy that Emley did. For all the amusing era-specific details that pepper the Thorne series (think big hair, late 80s excess, and the "greed is good" mentality), Iris is actually a deceptively complex character. If you missed her the first time around, please do yourself a favor and discover what a wonderful series this is. And if you're of a certain age, like me, not only will you enjoy the mysteries, you'll enjoy the touch of nostalgia you'll get while reading them as well.

Evil in All Its Disguises (Lily Moore)
Evil in All Its Disguises (Lily Moore)
by Hilary Davidson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.82
96 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Davidson creates a creeping claustrophobia and rising sense of menace and paranoia., May 22, 2013
"Lily, by now you've learned people never really know someone as well as they think they do, right?" - Bruxton

If travel writer Lily Moore didn't understand that reality after her adventures in the first two books in author Hilary Davidson's award-winning series, The Damage Done and The Next One to Fall, the situation in which she finds herself in the series' third entry, Evil in All Its Disguises, will make it painfully, unquestionably clear.

Initially Lily's latest assignment, an all-expenses-paid trip to the upscale Hotel Cerón in Acapulco with a small group of fellow travel writers, seems like the perfect getaway. A fan of all things from Hollywood's Golden Age, Lily is excited to be headed to the place many of that era's biggest stars made their personal playground. Upon arrival at the beautiful, if extremely remote resort, Lily meets up for a drink with Skye McDermott, one of the other writers on the trip.

Lily finds herself slightly concerned by Skye's behavior, which swings from acting upset and on the verge of tears to raging about getting vengeance on an ex-boyfriend via a devastating exposé about his business practices. Lily's concerns shift into high gear, however, when Skye excuses herself from the table for a moment...and never returns. Even more concerning, Lily can't get the hotel staff to take Skye's disappearance seriously, even though she points out that Skye left all her personal belongings, including passport and medication, behind.

It isn't until Lily learns that the Hotel Cerón is owned by the Pantheon Group, a company headed by her ex-fiancé and shady real-estate tycoon Martin Sklar, however, that Lily begins to suspect she's been lured to Mexico under false pretenses. When hotel manager, and Sklar's right-hand man, Gavin Stroud cites the danger and high crime levels in the city and flat-out refuses to let Lily leave the hotel one evening, Lily finally understands that Skye isn't the only one in serious trouble.

In her previous two adventures with Lily, author Hilary Davidson made extensive use of setting on a large scale-Spain, New York City, Peru-but Evil in All Its Disguises does a complete 180 in that regard. While Lily is still technically somewhere exotic, almost the entirety of the book takes place within the confines of the Hotel Cerón, making Evil just one small step above a locked room mystery. The cast of characters is also kept deliberately small, the better to cast suspicion and doubt on those to whom Lily is closest, both literally and figuratively. The result is a story that unfolds with a creeping claustrophobia and rising sense of menace and paranoia.

Lily is already carrying around some pretty heavy emotional baggage as a result of her family history and the events of the prior books in the series, which makes the dance Davidson does with Lily's investigation into Skye's disappearance vs Lily's self-doubt that something sinister has actually happened all the more exquisite-are Lily's suspicions justified, or is she overreacting based on her skewed personal perspective? One thing that's not in question, however, is that Lily is damned if she's going to sit around and do nothing. Head on a swivel and unwilling to trust anyone, Lily dives headlong into a morass of deception, double-crosses and danger, determined to get to the bottom of things, one way or another.

It's hard enough to write a decent book, but to write one that strips away all plot crutches and "big ticket" diversions and relies on nothing more than the interactions of a handful of key players in a confined location takes serious skill, something Davidson once again demonstrates she has in abundance.

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2
Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2
by Paul O'Brien
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.11
25 used & new from $3.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than the first, and that's saying something, May 10, 2013
Paul O'Brien's debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, was one of the more enjoyable books I read last year, a wonderful combination of organized crime and professional wrestling circa the early 1970s. The book ended with a rather intense cliffhanger, and fortunately for fans of the first entry O'Brien is now back to pick up the story in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2

As we learned in the first outing, professional wrestling in the early 70s was not the huge, centralized business it is today, but rather was broken into various territories held by individual owners spread throughout the country. And though the owners worked together to a certain degree for the greater good of the sport in general, at the same time each protected their turf ruthlessly. One owner, Danno Garland, has managed to claw his way to the top of the heap and now controls the World Heavyweight Champion, which gives him tremendous power. It wasn't an easy climb, however, and the backstabbing and double-crosses are now catching up with Danno. When his rivals lash out at him in a particularly horrific way, Danno turns his back on everything he's ever known and loved and directs the same single-minded focus he used to build his wrestling empire to a new purpose-revenge.

The story is told by flashing back and forth between the time leading up to the lynchpin event and the days immediately following it. It's an interesting juxtaposition, one which lets O'Brien fill in pertinent details and backstory from the first book in a very subtle way, allowing readers who may be joining the story in progress to hit the ground up to speed and running. It's also a technique which provides for a natural buildup of tension, with the reader waiting for the inevitable head-on collision of the two storylines as they converge like runaway trains on single track.

O'Brien's background is in writing for the stage, and that really shines through in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2. The character development is a joy to watch unfold, with O'Brien proving to those who may have thought the wrestling setting of the first book was a gimmick (sorry, I couldn't resist) that made him a one trick pony that they couldn't be more wrong. Already in the twilight of his life, though at the top of his career, the events of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 utterly destroy Danno Garland, turning him into a man running on little more than grief, fueled by revenge, with the only question being whether he will accomplish his self-appointed mission before completely flaming out. As written by O'Brien, it's a transformation which is both thoroughly engaging and utterly heartbreaking.

But as captivating as Danno's breakdown is, it's Danno's second-in-command, Ricky Plick, who really steals the show. A loyal man, Ricky tries his best to keep Danno from running completely off the rails and destroying both himself and the business. As loyal as he is, however, Ricky is also very shrewd, and as Danno's downward spiral progresses Ricky knows that even after all their years together a decision will have to be made as to where his ultimate loyalty lies. After all, Ricky has his own crosses to bear, simultaneously dealing with his own failing body after years of abuse in the ring, as well as now looking out for his partner, Ginny, who isn't the same following a traumatic event during the climax of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green.

And while Blood Red Turns Dollar Green included a significant amount of detail about wrestling, including some wonderful descriptions of in-ring action, which may have made some readers a bit wary, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is a straight-up crime fiction novel which just happens to have the business of 1970s territorial professional wrestling as the backdrop. There's still enough pro wrestling flavor to make fans of the sport happy-particularly in the character of Shane `The Sugarstick' Montrose, a colorful, aging superstar-but if for any reason the wrestling angle had scared you off the first one, its extremely limited "on screen" time in this outing means there's no excuse for you to not give Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 a try.

In fact, as much as I liked the first book, I believe Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is even better. Telling a good crime story is hard enough, but doing so while putting a very human face on the devastation and consequences which flow from greed and power run amok is very tricky business, one which O'Brien manages with impressive aplomb.

Juárez Dance
Juárez Dance
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explosive, unflinching, and unforgiving, February 21, 2013
This review is from: Juárez Dance (Kindle Edition)
"You are a killer. Here's a man I want you to kill. I'll pay you. What else is there?" - Lorena Ruiz

For American hitman Cooper Townsend, there actually was nothing else for many years. A man with a healthy dose of moral apathy, Townsend settled in Juárez, Mexico after a brief apprenticeship with an older assassin and set about making a fine living as a contract killer, primarily for one of Juárez's largest crime organizations. The book opens with Townsend taking care of a job back in the States before heading home to Juárez, where he's met with an interesting job opportunity from his main employer, Señor Barriga-work close protection for the man during a week of negotiations with one of the organization's biggest competitors.

It seems that depending upon how successful the negotiations are, Townsend may be needed to make a hit on the man, and posing as Barriga's bodyguard is the best way for Townsend to get inside the gated community and the man's home for the recon that will be needed should the hit be green-lit. While spending time at the potential target's estate, Townsend meets an alluring young woman, Lorena Ruiz, who kindles feelings in him he wasn't aware he was capable of. When Barriga tells Townsend to stand down on the hit, Lorena approaches him with a proposal of her own, one that sends Townsend down a deadly path from which there will be no turning back.

Author Sam Hawken introduced readers to the city of Ciudad Juárez in his outstanding novel The Dead Women of Juárez, and once again the city plays a role as strong as any of the characters in Juárez Dance. However, unlike in The Dead Women of Juárez, which explored in a fictional setting the real life tragedy of feminicidios (female homicides) and their political and societal ramifications, the action in Juárez Dance is more traditional, straight-forward crime fiction: a hitman, a femme fatale, and a job seemingly destined to spiral out of control.

The action in Juárez Dance builds with a slow, smoldering burn as the reader is first immersed in Townsend's daily life which, many days, is actually rather...boring. And yet, it's not boring because of the way Hawken relays it all through the eyes and thoughts of Townsend. It's the necessary groundwork to set the stage for the off the rails action to come, as there'd be no appreciation for just how far out of control Townsend's life gets, how radically his priorities begin to change, without first understanding how structured and isolated he is used to living. And when the action does hit, it hits hard.

There are two hand-to-hand fights in Juárez Dance that are simply brutal to read. The violence is explosive, primitive, and unforgiving-men used to dealing in death, who know how high the stakes are, and who will do anything to put down their opponent. Similarly, several of Townsend's hits are depicted in graphic fashion, including the aftermath and cleanup. And though it does seem apparent once the action explodes that events can't turn out well for Townsend given how far off the reservation he wanders, there is more than enough tension and uncertainty to keep the reader guessing. You may see the straight left punch coming that sets up the downhill run to the finish, but I guarantee you won't see the roundhouse right that Hawken will hammer you with to put things down for the count.

Sam Hawken has been slowly but surely making his presence known in the crime fiction community over the past few years, and Juárez Dance is another blazingly colorful feather in his cap. If you're not reading Hawken's work yet, get on it now. You will not be disappointed.

Driving Alone: A Love Story
Driving Alone: A Love Story
by Kevin Lynn Helmick
Edition: Paperback
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A magical mix of crime fiction, romance, and Southern Gothic, February 15, 2013
Though he doesn't literally have "Born to Lose" tattooed on himself, Billy Keyhoe would seem to have been given the karmic equivalent of the mark. Twenty-nine years old, his life has been most notable for its failure to launch. The only thing he's proven himself any good at is smoking, drinking, and beating on his girlfriend.

Even he's bright enough, however, to realize he's hit a new low when in a fit of jealous rage he delivers a particularly savage beating one night, so he grabs a few things and hits the road in his beater of a '66 Caddy. His intention is to put Waycross, Georgia in the rearview and start over somewhere in West Texas.

When he spontaneously decides to rob Earl's 66 during a stop for gas on the way out of town, that goes about as well as the rest of his life, netting him a whopping $29 and a pissed-off clerk unloading her shotgun at him for his efforts.

Things seem to take a turn for the better when Billy picks up a beautiful hitchhiker named Feather. He realizes it's kind of odd she was just standing at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, but Billy has no idea how truly odd things are going to get before their journey is over.

Author Kevin Lynn Helmick packs more into the hard-hitting 91 pages of Driving Alone than many writers manage in works several times as long. As the story unfolds, it quickly becomes clear to the reader that there's more to Feather than meets the eye-she's not just a pretty face and a "Jesus Slave" belt buckle. It takes Billy a little longer to catch on, but he slowly comes to understand that Feather can help him make sense of his life, but that in order to have any hope of moving forward he must first go back and revisit how it is he got to this point-how he became the person he is.

Along the way, Helmick plays with both Billy and the reader's minds, causing both to question what exactly is happening between Billy and Feather as they verbally and physically spar with one another. Billy's crude, blunt personality seems to have met a match of sorts in Feather's (somewhat) more refined and circumspect one, and it's a wonderful juxtaposition which Helmick deftly explores. His decision to present the dialog with a distinctive cadence which incorporates a rural slang only adds to the gritty, undeniably Southern feel of the story.

Driving Alone is a magical mix of crime fiction, romance, and Southern Gothic, and I highly recommend you join Billy on his enlightening journey of self-discovery...where it ends may surprise you.

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