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…”
Judith 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 www.swwordfiesta.org for full Festival information.