The Night Charter by Sam Hawken

“I’ve done some things in my life that put me in front of some bad people. I always tried to do right, though. That’s all you can do.” — Camaro Espinoza

For ex-combat medic Camaro Espinoza, doing the right thing is more than a lofty concept—it’s the way she lives every day of her life, and the standard by which she evaluates every decision she makes.

To be clear, in Camaro’s mind doing the right thing and doing what’s legal are not necessarily the same, and as such Camaro has accordingly had her fair share of trouble over the years.

A particularly bad bit of it in New York City roughly a year ago ended with five men dead and Camaro relocating to a low-profile gig in Miami. Acting as captain and sole crew member of a fifty-foot Custom Carolina charter boat, Camaro takes groups out for catch-and-release deep-sea fishing excursions.

Things seem to be going fine for Camaro, until ex-con Parker Story shows up. Parker wants to book Camaro for a night charter for himself and a few friends. Only thing is, they aren’t looking to fish. They want Camaro to run them out to just off the Cuban coast to pick up a special passenger. Initially reluctant, Camaro finds it difficult to turn Parker away once she finds out he is a single father to a teenage daughter, and that his associates have made it clear things won’t go well for Parker, or his daughter, if he doesn’t make the charter happen.

The pickup actually goes smoothly, but that’s the last time anything does in The Night Charter, the newest release from author Sam Hawken. Acting as living example of the old saying there is no honor among thieves, Parker’s associate, Matt Clifford, gets greedy and botches the handoff of their passenger, and from there Camaro is drawn into an ever-escalating web of double crosses and betrayal. Not content to have Camaro simply caught between Clifford’s band of mercenaries and the anti-Castro insurgent group he’s pissed off, Hawken also throws the FBI and a tenacious Miami detective into the mix for good measure, then has the story unfold against the neon-soaked backdrop of Miami and its thriving Cuban-American community. The end result is a sizzling, high-stakes series of showdowns that push Camaro to the very brink of her considerable abilities.

Camaro Espinoza is a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre overflowing with testosterone and clichés. The key to what makes Camaro truly “click” as a character is that instead of either playing up the fact she’s female or having her behave exactly the way a male protagonist would, Hawken deftly straddles the line between the two, writing Camaro in a way that is, in many aspects, genderless—she’s a person who just happens to be female, put in the position of having to deal with some seriously bad people bent on doing her and others (who are innocent) harm. And rather than approaching the situation with a macho, badass, “hero come to save the day” attitude that is typical of the genre, Camaro simply sees the situation as something that is, that has intruded upon her life and sense of order, and accordingly must be dealt with. Not so she can play the hero, but so that she can be right with her own conscience.

Though this is her full-length novel debut, longtime readers of Hawken have previously had a chance to get to know Camaro in a series of novellas. A bit of the backstory from those novellas finds its way into The Night Charter, so readers do get a feel for the rough and tumble approach to life Camaro lives by, including the facts she was in the military for twelve years, served several tours in Iraq, knows her way around weapons, and is more than capable of handling herself in hand-to-hand combat. Add those details to Hawken’s skill as an author—the man has been nominated for the CWA Dagger Award four times—and the possibilities for Camaro are virtually limitless.

I am excited to see where Hawken takes Camaro going forward, which we already know includes a second novel forthcoming from Mulholland Books and, hopefully, the reissue of those novellas in the not too distant future.

The Night Charter is available from Mulholland Books (ISBN-13: 978-0316299213).

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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