Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken

“I can almost stand the bodies, even when they’re in pieces, but when they burn them…” – Matías Segura

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.

Tequila Sunset is available from Serpent’s Tail (ISBN: 978-1846688546).

Trained as an historian, Sam Hawken leans on his academic background to create books with solid connections to the real world, while also telling human stories. His mainstream publishing career began in 2011 with the publication of The Dead Women of Juárez, a crime novel that used the real-life tragedy of female homicides in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez as the stepping-off point for a story of corruption, despair and redemption. It was shortlisted by the Crime Writers Association for the John Creasy New Blood Dagger. Hawken’s other works include Tequila Sunset, La Frontera, and Juárez Dance. To learn more about Hawken, visit his website.

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