THE NIGHT CHARTER by Sam Hawken (Mulholland Books, 2015)
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Graduating to a full novel after starring in a series of Hawken’s short stories, Camaro Espinoza is now a Florida fishing charter captain enjoying a quiet and independent life after a bullet-riddled past. When a likable client’s dodgy money-making scheme goes wrong Camaro finds herself mixed up with cops, crooks, and Cuban paramilitaries.
Maryland author Sam Hawken was shortlisted for both the CWA Gold Dagger (Best Novel) and Steel Dagger (Best Thriller) – two of the most prestigious awards in the world of crime writing – for his critically acclaimed crime trilogy set among the drug cartels, murders, and missing women of Juarez and the Texas/Mexico border. But it may be with the creation of former combat medic Camaro Espinoza where Hawken has truly struck crime series gold.
The Night Charter is a gritty, compelling thriller that sees Camaro flourish as a fully fledged star, after appearing in several short stories. She’s a fascinating heroine, charismatic and layered, who fairs screams for an ongoing series.
Now working as a Florida fishing captain after leaving bodies in New York, Camaro Espinoza is enjoying her quiet, independent life. She’s keeping things simple, taking clients out onto the water for a day or night battling the best the ocean has to offer. Her complicated past is in the rearview mirror, and she’s keen to keep it that way.
Too many bullets, too many bodies; she much prefers life on the ocean waves.
When ex-con Parker Story comes looking for a night charter, her antenna is raised. He’s scruffy and likable, a father keen to create a better life for his teenage daughter, but he ends up shattering Camaro’s simple life on the water. Against her better judgment, she gets caught up in a dodgy money-making scheme as Parker and his buddies use her boat for a special errand entering the coastal waters off Cuba. Not drug smuggling – Camaro wouldn’t touch that – but something that ends up being even more dangerous for everyone involved.
When the plan goes horribly wrong and Parker’s ex-con buddies start changing all the rules, Camaro’s life recoils backwards to bullets and bodies. With Miami cops, crooks, and Cuban paramilitaries from either side all entangled as blood begins to flow, Camaro must think on her feet to save herself and Parker’s daughter.
I was very impressed by The Night Charter. Hawken has created a fresh and fascinating crime hero in Camaro Espinoza, a kick-ass heroine with plenty of depth. Some may call her a ‘female Jack Reacher’, but she’s a woman all of her own. Tough-skinned and tough-minded, she’s been forged in the crucible of war zone combat, and is fiercely independent, but has a strong moral code. Helping others is imprinted in her DNA, but she’s no doormat. Far from it: a Harley-riding, take-what-she-wants badass that may draw some comparisons to Lisbeth Salander, although Camaro’s skill-sets and personality is far different than the computer-hacking social outcast with a dragon tattoo.
Hawken powers his story with fresh prose and staccato chapters, keeping the pace high, but also textures his tale with plenty of characterization. He brings the sweltering Florida setting to life, as well as touching upon the fascinating and complex history of Cuba and its relationship with the United States.
An excellent read.
Craig Sisterson is a reviewer and features writer from New Zealand who writes for publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson