The Night Charter
Sam Hawken
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The Night Charter
Sam Hawken
Mulholland Books
336 pages
December 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Newcomer Camaro Espinoza carves her own niche in the crime fiction genre. Fleeing violence in New York that put her on law enforcementís radar in that city, Camaro has relocated to Miami, where she offers night fishing charters on her boat. A former medic in the military, Camaro boasts hard-earned skills, from life-saving techniques to weapons handling, determined to live by her own rules and suffer no fools. At the docks, she is approached by a stranger, Parker Story, who inquires about hiring her boat for a night charter for five. After explaining the ground rules, she accepts a deposit, softening a little toward Parker when he talks about his fourteen-year-old daughter, Lauren, the most precious thing in his life. Husband and daughter abandoned by Laurenís mother years before, the girl has complete trust in the father who has fought to keep their little family intact.

Only after Parker brings his client aboard The Annabel does Camaro question the wisdom of accepting the charter reservation. Abrasive and arrogant, client Matt Clifford assumes he will run the show, Espinoza balking at the manís hubris. When she learns the details of the outing, Camaroís first instinct is to cancel. Only after Parker shares his story and concerns for his daughterís safety does Camaro agree to new terms, extending the nighttime voyage into Cuban waters, there to complete a dangerous mission in exchange for a lucrative payment. (Going ahead with this charter poses the plotís only vulnerability: Camaroís decision to engage in a venture that can jeopardize her new life in Miami. Such is this protagonistís nature, it seems, the willingness to endanger herself to keep a young girl from harm.)

Once the charter enters Cuban waters, the mission is compromised by the changing US/Cuban policy. The US is loosening restrictions on Cuba, fostering a better relationship, but anti-Castro activities continue in that country, supported by a passionate Cuban community in Miami. Though this nighttime charter ratchets up the potential for deadly consequences from political enemies on both sides, the increasingly unpredictable Matt Clifford remains the central and most volatile character, provoking a shocking level of violence in Miami as he seeks to control the players and the profit, greed and frustration exacerbating his already brutal temperament. He hasnít gotten over Camaroís rejection on the charter, the cold spurning of his advances. With each new problem, Matt blames Camaro, obsessed with proving he is the stronger adversary.

As more dead bodies accumulate, Miami detective Ignacio ďNachoĒ Montellano enters the fray, painstakingly piecing together individuals and details of a developing nightmare. His attention already focused on the activities of Matt Clifford, he unfortunately has Espinoza in his sights as well. Soft-spoken but determined to get answers, he catches Camaro at home, pushing her to share what she knows about the evolving mayhem. Ultimately more blood is spilled, a confrontation between Clifford, Camaro, and Cuban zealots inevitable, leaving Lauren safe--at least temporarily. The finale is spectacular, all the players in a dangerously accelerating game caught up in a bloody clash, Espinoza fighting for her life.

Hawken is an assured writer, his characters crisp and plotting fast-paced. The Night Charter, a first novel, features a compelling and intriguing new protagonist. This fresh crime series is a sure winner. The authorís intuitive grasp of the vagaries of human nature suggests a wild ride ahead for the unpredictable Camaro Espinoza. Canít wait.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2016

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