Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review of The Dead Women of Juarez


Debut novelist Sam Hawken's novel The Dead Women of Juarez (Serpent's Tail, 2010) is a surprisingly assured and skilled first novel. First novels are often works where you can see the seams, and watch as an writer shows hints of potential. It's a fairly rare that a first novel doesn't seem like a first novel, and Hawken's novel reads like the work of someone who's been turning out novels for a long time.

The Dead Women of Juarez starts out as the story of washed up boxer Kelly Courter, who has retreated south of the border after making some horrible decisions that torpedoed a once promising career. To get by he picks up the occasional unsanctioned fight and helps his best friend Esteban sell weed. He's also involved with Esteban's sister, Paloma, who works for Mujeres sin Voces, a group dedicated to bringing attention to the hundreds of unsolved murders of women in Juarez.

Hawken takes a rather bold turn when, halfway through the story, he has events sideline Kelly, and switches the story's focus to aging Mexican cop Rafael Sevilla, who struggles with the loss of his daughter and granddaughter, who simply went out one day and then vanished, just two more victims of the senseless crime that thrives in Mexico. While he switches characters, Hawken, doesn't switch stories, however, so the transition is smooth, and works well.

Overall, Hawken's prose is strong, the plot is well thought out, and the characters are well drawn. Kelly and Rafael both have affecting and convincing backstories, that make them seem quite human and explains their motivations. The fact that the story is inspired by the real life murders that plague Juarez (more famously the subject of Roberto Bolano's novel 2666), serves to make the novel even stronger.

3 comments:

Sam said...

Nathan, thanks very much for the kind words. I hope I can continue to impress with the book(s) that come next.

Charlieopera said...

This is an excellent read, debut or otherwise.

Orange said...

I found the novel very fluent in style, and with a close, unsentimental and convincing view of Mexico.