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van Gieson-Ditch Rider


Reviewed by Charlie McKee

As a Southwestern writer, Judith van Gieson imbues her novels with the sensations, atmosphere, cultural mix, and visual images of New Mexico, as well as its raw human transgressions and intrigues.

On page one of Ditch Rider, named one of New Mexico’s 100 Best New Books, van Gieson draws her readers immediately into the landscape of Albuquerque’s less than desirable neighborhoods, describing her heroine’s neighbors’ cars, trucks, and trailers “parked in their scraped-bare yards,” surrounded by chain-link fence and weeds that grow into trees.

The eighth and most recent of the Neil Hamel series, Ditch Rider paints a picture of the seldom publicized world of disadvantaged young teen girls’ inexorable involvement in gang life. Neil Hamel, female attorney/sleuth protagonist, finds herself accidentally drawn into the life and death drama of the dysfunctional youth in her “‘hood.”

The plot of youth gang murder – pitting girls against boys, with all the associated sociological, psychological, and sexual complexity — unfolds along Albuquerque’s seedy “Ditch”; and Neil Hamel’s smart and sassy character not only acts as the crusader for justice for children forced prematurely into the adult world of violence and crime, but also subtly and with humor conveys the endemic mix of Hispanic and Anglo cultures inherent to life in New Mexico.

Van Gieson’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Neil Hamel as a “cougar” living with her hunky young South American boyfriend, The Kid, provides some levity to the otherwise dark tale of young innocence spoiled in the hard dirt of urban violence. And as a bonus, The Kid and his parrot Mimo, who can say “hello” and “pendejo,” teach the reader a little street Spanish along the way.

For fans of crime novels, Ditch Rider presents a very real facet of life in the Southwest in a very satisfying read. As the Washington Post Book World states, “Van Gieson’s natural and human landscape makes her work exceptional…”

van Gieson, JudithJudith van Gieson will be a guest presenter at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word, Friday-Sunday, October 2-4, 2015, in historic downtown Silver City, NM. All Festival events, except the Saturday night dinner, are open to the public free of charge.

Visit for full Festival information.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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We respectfully acknowledge that the entirety of southwestern New Mexico is the traditional territory, since time immemorial, of the Chis-Nde, also known as the people of the Chiricahua Apache Nation. The Chiricahua Apache Nation is recognized as a sovereign Native Nation by the United States in the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Friendship of 1 July 1852 (10 Stat. 979) (Treaty of Santa Fe ratified 23 March 1853 and proclaimed by President Franklin Pierce 25 March 1853).

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Mimbres Press of Western New Mexico University is a traditional academic press that welcomes agented and unagented submissions in the following genres: literary fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, memoir, poetry, children’s books, historical fiction, and academic books. We are particularly interested in academic work and commercial work with a strong social message, including but not limited to works of history, reportage, biography, anthropology, culture, human rights, and the natural world. We will also consider selective works of national and global significance.