El Gavilan

craig mcdonald

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“…McDonald deftly balances his “now” against the “then” backstory as he dissects one of America’s most tormenting social problems.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)




The news is full of it: escalating tensions from illegal immigration; headless bodies hanging off bridges and bounties placed on lawmen on both sides of the border. New Austin, Ohio, is a town grappling with waves of undocumented workers who exert tremendous pressure on schools, police and city services. In the midst of the turmoil, three very different kinds of cops scramble to maintain control and impose order.

But the rape-murder of a Mexican-American woman triggers a brutal chain of events that threatens to leave no survivors. El Gavilan is a novel of shifting alliances and whiplash switchbacks. Families are divided and careers and lives threatened. Friendships and ideals are tested and budding love affairs challenged. With its topical themes, shades-of- gray characters and dark canvas, El Gavilan is a novel for our charged times.


“As sobering and as urgent as tomorrow’s headlines, this searing novel by Edgar-finalist McDonald (Head Games) traces the struggle of the residents of fictional New Austin, Ohio, to cope with out-of-control illegal Latino immigrants. The town’s principled new police chief, Tell Lyon, a former Border Patrol sector chief whose wife and child recently died in a firebombing in the California borderlands, must contend with the brutal rape-murder of Thalia Ruiz, a young waitress and legal immigrant befriended by Horton County sheriff Able Hawk. Opposing Lyon and Hawk (gavilan in Spanish) are all-too-credible villains: Latino gangbangers, an unscrupulous journalist, and several crooked cops. Meanwhile, irresistible Patricia Maldonado, whose parents are “two of Horton County’s rare documented, naturalized Latinos,” provides Lyon steamy reasons to stay alive in this simmering cauldron of racial tensions and sadistic crimes. McDonald deftly balances his “now” against the “then” backstory as he dissects one of America’s most tormenting social problems.”
—Publishers Weekly(starred review)

“Ohio is a long way from the Mexican border, but El Gavilan was inspired by real events in a rural area of that state. The novel tells the story of a sudden influx of illegal immigrants; a spike in violent crime; the appearance of street gangs; and stresses on schools, policing, and other services. McDonald uses three lenses for the story: different police chiefs who span an ethical continuum from respectful law enforcement to murderous thuggery. When a brutal rape-murder follows an apartment-building fire made lethal because of the language barrier between victims and firefighters, two of the cops face a flashpoint that might overwhelm everyone in the region. El Gavilan is a big and broad story, and McDonald effectively uses a just-the-facts-ma’am narrative, fleshing out primary characters via flashbacks. It’s also an evenhanded story that begins with desperate families making a dangerous journey to an uncertain future. Crime fans will find much to like, and readers unfamiliar with the complexities of the issue will be engaged and informed.”

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