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by Steven F. Havill
Worldwide Library, February 2004
304 pages
ISBN: 0373264828

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Steven F Havill is the author of the Sheriff Bill Gastner series set in Posadas County, New Mexico. SCAVENGERS is the first book in a new series featuring a minor character in the Gastner books as the protagonist, Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman. Gastner has retired and been replaced as sheriff by Bobby Torrez; currently, Bill is working as a State Livestock Inspector. He makes periodic appearances in this book, serving as an advisor to Estelle as she runs the Posadas Police Department while Torrez is at a training seminar in Virginia.

Normally a fairly quiet place, Posadas seems to be undergoing a crime wave. While flying over the area, a young woman spots a body in a remote area surrounding the town. The dead man had been beaten and shot. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Jackie Taber finds another body in a similarly isolated area. It appears that there are connections between the two murders.

In the meantime, one of the locals has blown himself up and set his mother's house ablaze; there is definitely more going on there than meets the eye, including the possibility that he was trying to murder his mother. And then there's the disappearance of a young man who acted suspiciously when he first saw the body in the desert.

Reyes-Guzman and her team follow the evidence. Estelle is driven to solve all of these investigations and puts in incredible hours which means that she has to sacrifice time with her family. Her aging mother seems to be preparing for death; her two children are sick with the flu. Her husband is a busy physician. Fortunately, one of their neighbors is available to do the necessary caretaking of the family.

SCAVENGERS is a small-town police procedural, and it doesn't really stand out from the pack. There are a few action scenes toward the end of the book, but the majority of the narrative just follows a rather static investigation with no great mystery about who the killer is. At times, Estelle puts herself into jeopardy without considering the consequences which led me to question her ability to lead the team. The characters were pretty much the standard bunch you'd find in a police department, and they never really came to life for me.

Havill has some annoying mannerisms in his writing, one being the overuse of the word 'grinned' and another being that Estelle calls almost every male she interacts with 'sir' over and over again which made the dialogue sound awkward. At the same time, the setting is very well done and the portrayal of a place that is heavily under the influence of its Mexican neighbors feels authentic.

Having heard positive things about the Gastner series, I was disappointed that this book was not more engaging. I'd rate the book as average and don't plan on seeking out future entries in this series, although I would like to check out the Gastner books.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, November 2004

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