I first came across Sam Hawken's work via DEAD WOMEN OF JUAREZ. I'd lived in both Juarez and El Paso back in my younger days, and the idea of a hardboiled story in that setting appealed to me. DEAD WOMEN ended up being one of my favorite books of the year, largely because it did a great job of portraying Juarez, while at the same time telling a really good story with two interesting leads. And without spoiling anything, I thought that it also took some ballsy chances in the way it told the story.
So as soon as I was able to, I picked his follow up TEQUILA SUNSET. Like like DEAD WOMEN, this one also takes place in the U.S/Mexico border, but the focus is more on El Paso this time. Also like DEAD WOMEN, the story is divided between multiple characters. Felipe 'Flip' Morales is a young man recently released from prison and caught between leading a normal life and the pull of the Azteca gang and their leader Jose. Cristina Salas is an El Paso police officer rasising a single kid who, while I don't believe ever specifically mentioned, seemes to be autistic. And finally, we have Matis Segura, who as a Mexican officer provides a view of the way the Mexican police force deals with gangs on their side, and has some of the more violent chapters earlier on.
While the story is told through the point of view of all three of these characters, I felt like the stronger narrative lied with Flip. Early on, he seemed a bit of a cypher, as his chapters felt a bit detached, but the more he gets used to the life outside of prison, and more importantly, becomes integrated into the Azteca gang and meets a girl he likes, the deeper I began to understand him. His chapters also provided the most tension, as before long we start to see how being pulled from two separate sides starts to affect him.
I also enjoyed Cristina and Matia's chapters, and they provided a glimpse into a world and setting that's only in the peripheral of Flip's chapters. Their chapters also occasionally juxtaposed against each other, showing not only how different the Mexican and El Pasoan tactics for dealing with gangs were, but also how different, yet similar, their personal lives were. I do sort of wish we got more of their chapters though, as Matias never became a fully fledged character for me. His chapters were never boring or a drag to read because as another reviewer has mentioned, one of Hawken's strenght here is that the writing style he uses here is quick and to the point, allowing the chapters to speed right by.
Overall, I really ended up enjoying this book, though DEAD WOMEN is stil my favorite. It was a quick read for me, that nonetheless left me thinking about it and its characters for days on afterwards. I look forward to whatever Hawken produces next, regardless of the setting.