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.
Juárez Dance is available for Kindle at Amazon, and is free through midnight February 18, 2013.