Sam Hawken burst onto the scene with The Dead Women of Juárez (link), a blistering indictment of conditions in the borderland Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez, and a well-received thriller which earned a nomination for the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasy New Blood Dagger. While Juárez did not win that year, it went on to significant critical and commercial success, paving the for what came to be known as The Borderland Trilogy.
Writing about the border between Mexico and Texas came naturally to Hawken, as he’d spent a great deal of his youth in that very same region, observing the people and places which thrive along the Rio Grande, who labor in the fields, who sell trinkets to tourists, who scrape a living off the shoes of hard-luck cities. So it was no surprise when Juárez was followed by a second book of borderland noir, Tequila Sunset (link).
While Juárez told the story of a broken-down, junkie American expat and an aging cop spending his last years in a bottle, Tequila Sunset tackled characters in the prime of their lives. From Flip Morales, the young man who went to prison for agreeing to the wrong crime, but who cannot escape the decisions he made once behind bars; to Cristina Salas, whose life as an El Paso detective is dominated by the spillover of gang violence in Mexico into her city, but has to balance that against the needs of her autistic son; to Matías Segura, a federal policeman in the embattled Juárez, devoted to preserving the last thread of civilization in his home, but getting nowhere. Tequila Sunset went on to become a bestseller, and garnered another CWA nomination, this time for the Gold Dagger, awarded to the best crime novel of the year.
The final installment in the trilogy followed shortly thereafter. Missing (link) would be Hawken’s greatest success to that point, with recognition on every level including, once again, the CWA, who graced it with not one, but two Dagger nominations, including the Gold Dagger. In this haunting tale of loss and violence, Jack Searle is a contractor in Laredo, Texas, raising the daughters of his late wife. Though he is not their natural father, Jack would do anything for his girls, and when one goes across the border to Nuevo Laredo for a concert and never comes back, he takes it upon himself to find her, no matter how foolhardy the quest might be.
Hawken’s borderland books are about raw human emotion, dangerous choices and the evil that men do. They aren’t for the faint of heart, but for those who venture between their covers, the books provide real satisfaction, albeit of the darkest kind.