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The Dead Women of Juárez Paperback – January 6, 2011
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"'A beautifully written and deeply affecting crime novel dealing with the wasted life of an American boxer in the city of Juarez, Mexico, the missing women of that city and ultimately a small amount of justice that is awarded them. Hawken writes with a maturity that is rare for a first novel, and achieves both a great crime novel and a work that transcends the genre. This is the real deal: tragic, dark, heartfelt. The Dead Women of Juarez deserves to be massive.' - Dave Zeltserman"
About the Author
Sam Hawken is a native of Texas now living on the east coast of the United States. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he pursued a career as a historian before turning to writing. The Dead Women of Juarez is his first novel.
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Top Customer Reviews
So much for the fact, what about the fiction?
If I had to use one word to sum up this book, it would be `cinematic'. Partly, this is down to the story being told in a series of short chapters, often only four or five pages long, that gives the impression of a movie-type story. Partly too it's achieved though a lot of dialogue. It would be no surprise to me if this story were to be picked up by a Hollywood studio and it would make a decent enough action movie. There's a prime part for a beaten up American boxer, down on his luck and resorting to drug use. A part too for his beautiful Mexican girlfriend who does good work in helping the families of the missing women. And for added gratias, there's a great part for an old-school Mexican cop, close to retirement and determined to get to the bottom of the problem of the missing women (for missing, read `presumed dead') but having to do so outside of the confines of conventional measures. And there's plenty of action scenes.
This is not tourist Mexico of `spring break', but the poor, drug-ridden, alcohol-soaked, violent underbelly of life. A lot of the violence is graphically portrayed and quite shocking. One can only hope that if first-time Texan-author Hawken ever crossed the border to visit Juárez, that he doesn't encounter any police officer who has read his book, as they are likely to be non-too enamoured with how they are portrayed here.
It's a haunting and brutal crime novel that brings attention to an important social issue. Yet, there are one or two areas where perhaps the fact that this is his first novel shows through. Firstly, this is evident in the flow of the book. The first half is concerned with the plight of the American boxer, Kelly Courter. It's clear that there is some back story as to why he has ended up in Mexico in the first place, but when the revelation of this comes, it is rather lumped in unexceptedly at a point when the story is shifting on apace that had me wondering what was going on until it dawned on me that we had shifted back in time. The second half of the book is more concerned with the police detective, Rafael Sevilla's story and while there is some inter-relation between the two parts, it is strongly a book of two halves and a little more integration would have been welcome.
There's also a small, but significant, amount of Spanish thrown in that isn't always translated. My tourist Spanish pretty much got me through OK, but I wonder if Hawken, residing as he does in Texas, is a little more familiar with Hispanic terms than some of his wider audience might be. Or maybe I'm just thick!
It's good to read what is basically a crime fiction piece that has a more general readership appeal though and, providing that you are prepared for a violent and shocking time, this is a powerful book that I can recommend to you.
Though Paloma is romantically involved with Kelly, her passion lies with Mujeres Sin Voces, an organization dedicated to seeking justice for the countless young women of Ciudad Juárez who go missing every year. Sometimes the women are found murdered, but more often than not they simply disappear, never to be seen again. The polícia are no help, they more than have their hands full fighting a losing battle against the drug cartels, leaving the families of the missing to seek what justice they can on their own.
Detective Rafael Sevilla is a man close to retirement, having put nearly thirty years of his life into the drug wars. Most recently he's had Estéban on his radar, occasionally leaning on Kelly to try and get the name of Estéban's heroin supplier, information Kelly honestly doesn't know having steered clear of that end of Estéban's business. When Paloma goes missing, Sevilla can't help but question whether there is a connection between her disappearance and her brother's business, though Sevilla's colleagues are more than happy to put Kelly in the frame and be done with it. Unwilling to watch an innocent man go down, and haunted by his own daughter's disappearance years ago, Sevilla finds himself taking on one last crusade, that of the dead women of Juárez.
Unfortunately, the underlying premise of author Sam Hawken's haunting crime novel, The Dead Women of Juárez, is rooted in reality, as the city of Ciudad Juárez experiences an alarming number of murders and disappearances of young women every year, most of which go unsolved. Like the polícia in The Dead Women of Juárez, the authorities in the real Ciudad Juárez are overwhelmed with their fight against the drug cartels, a problem that given its financial and international ramifications is deemed more important to them than that of missing local women. The resulting sense of devastation and hopelessness among the families of the young women left to cope with their loss hangs like a pallor over the city. It's grim.
As is the overall tone of The Dead Women of Juárez, necessarily so. To take any of the rough and ugly edges off would be doing a disservice to the issue upon which Hawken is trying to shine a light. Accordingly, Hawken pulls no punches when describing the horrific violence visited upon his characters, and there is a quite a bit of it. But the matter-of-fact manner in which it is presented makes it clear this is not violence for violence's sake, but rather a conscious decision on Hawken's part to drive home the casual brutality which permeates the lives of the characters and the dangers they face just trying to eke out an existence.
Yet, despite all the physical destruction meted out in The Dead Women of Juárez, it is the emotional devastation which leaves the biggest impact, both on the characters and the reader. Kelly and Sevilla are men living with an endless inner ache, the type that can only result from unresolved loss. Similarly, the families of the missing women shuffle through a hollow existence, unsure whether it would be better to fill the hole of loss in their hearts with definitive knowledge of their loved one's death or to nurse the belief that their sisters and daughters will be found alive.
That feeling of desperation tinged with hope is one Hawken captures in a way that is almost uncomfortably palpable. It's a feeling which stays with the reader long after the last page has been turned, one which makes The Dead Women of Juárez an undeniably eloquent and haunting work, and certainly one of the best I've read this year.