A graduate of the University of Maryland, Sam Hawken pursues twin callings as writer and historian. Areas of his study include comparative theology, Jewish and Middle Eastern histories and the formational experience of the United States.
All of Sam Hawken’s work involves extensive research, authentic flavor and a devotion to illuminating issues both historical and contemporary.
Sam Hawken’s short fiction can be found in a number of places and embraces a broad spectrum of genres, from southwestern noir to historical fiction and literary horror.
He’s appeared in the magazines Revelation, Dead Letters, War Journal, Back Roads and Hardluck Stories, and anthologies Way Out West and Revelation, Vols. I and III. Sam is a member of the Western Writers of America and co-edits Out West: The All-Fiction Western ‘Zine, the only periodical in the United States devoted to western fiction.
Sam Hawken is 40. A native of South Texas, he currently resides near Washington, DC with his wife and young son.
THE DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ
(Finalist of The CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger 2011)
Across the US/Mexico border from El Paso is the city of Ciudad Juárez, an industrial zone dominated by the maquiladoras, massive factories producing American consumer goods at Mexican labor rates. The cities are so closely intertwined that they are almost one entity, except that on one side there is American wealth and on the other side is a boiling mass of violence and crime.
People make a life in Ciudad Juárez despite an ongoing battle between the authorities and two rival drug cartels. But forgotten amid all of this are the crimes called feminicidios, the female murders. Since 1993 more than 400 women have vanished or been found raped and murdered. Only a handful of cases have been tried, and in all of them there have been allegations of false confessions, police corruption and torture.
Kelly Courter is an American living in the city. For reasons left initially undisclosed, he has fled Texas and started a new life as a punching bag in local boxing matches and as a drug mule for his Mexican friend, Estéban. He’s also involved in a relation with Estéban’s sister, Paloma, who has a personal crusade in the dead women of Juárez.
We also meet Rafael Sevilla, an aging policeman trying to turn Kelly against Estéban’s drug suppliers, and Ortíz, a sometime fight promoter who Paloma hints has a much darker agenda.
A relapse leaves Kelly circling the drain and when he manages to right himself again he finds Paloma has disappeared like so many women have. When her violated body turns up in a field not far from his apartment, he becomes the number one suspect in her death.
In jail Kelly is subjected to repeated abuse at the hands of police until a serious beating leaves him in a coma. Sevilla, unconvinced of Kelly’s too-convenient guilt, takes up the case with the help of an insider from the investigation.
Sevilla discovers the truth about Paloma’s abduction, one that has nothing to do with Kelly, and zeroes in on Ortíz. The man leads Sevilla to a wealthy maquila owner, Rafa Madrigal, and his son, Sebastían.
An attempt at an undercover operation goes awry, with Sevilla mistaken for a grifter trying to scam the Madrigals. Running out of time and options, Sevilla turns to the brutal tactics of others involved in the feminicidios cases, forcing a confession out of Ortíz and discovering the truth not only about Paloma’s torture and murder, but about the Madrigals.
Sevilla knows full well that a rich man like Madrigal can’t be brought to real justice thanks to his money and influence. He infiltrates the hidden den where Madrigal hosts “parties” featuring bloodsport fighting between men and animals alike, as well the sexual abuse of innocent women lured off the streets. The police, tipped off by Sevilla, raid the site and Sevilla takes this opportunity to gun down Madrigal under color of authority.
In the end there is little to celebrate. Kelly is still in a coma and officially under indictment for Paloma’s murder, but at least the man truly responsible has been brought to the only justice that was permanent and possible in Ciudad Juárez.
The author says in the Afterword, “It is my hope that this novel can in some small way shine a light on the femicides.”
Rights available: World ex. English language (Serpent’s Tail, to be published Jan. 2011); German (Tropen / KlettCotta); French (Belfond)
“North Pass is a beautifully written and deeply affecting crime novel dealing with the wasted life of an American boxer in the city of Juárez, Mexico, the missing women of that city, and ultimately a small
amount of justice that is awarded them. Hawken writes with a maturity that is rare for a first novel, and achieves both a great crime novel and a work that transcends the genre.” Dave Zeltserman
“A hard-boiled plunge into damaged lives that grippingly evokes the dust, decay and pervading sense of death in Juárez, leaving you with a lingering sense of sweaty unease.” Metro UK
“A tense, gripping read and a plea for justice. It deserves to be read on both counts.” Sunday Times
“A beautiful compassionate gruelling novel, as ferocious to read as it is soul wrenching. This book will haunt you for a long long time and the dignity given too the mothers of the lost women is writing of a whole other dimension.” Ken Bruen
El Paso and Ciudad Juárez sit across the Texas/Mexico border from each other. They share streets, share industry, share crime. One gang claims territory in both: Barrio Azteca, or as the Mexicans call them, Los Aztecas. This single criminal organization is responsible for 80% of the homicides committed in Juárez, and Felipe Morales is one of them.
Recruited in prison, and now on the streets of El Paso, “Flip” has no choice but to step further into that world, but he has a secret that could mean his life. Witness to murder and intimidation, he tries one desperate gamble to get out.
On the American side, El Paso detective Cristina Salas struggles to balance the needs of single motherhood, and the parenting of a disabled child, with those of life in the city’s gang unit. When her path crosses with Flip, their relationship will spell the difference between a life behind bars for the young gang member, a grisly death or freedom.
Meanwhile, Mexican federal agent Matías Segura must contend with the scourge of Los Aztecas while coordinating a long-term operation with the American authorities. Like any other Mexican cop, he’s a target, all the more so because of his position. As the operation against Los Aztecas gains traction, Matías relies on Flip and Cristina to do their parts even as his marriage falls apart and his life becomes forfeit.
The Aztecas, north and south, the gang whose members call themselves Indians, stand in the way of three lives. They have no qualms about crossing the line, about killing, about moving their deadly product, and it all comes together in a confrontation where the stakes are as high as they can be.
To be published by Serpent’s Tail (UK), September 2012. French rights: Belfond.