The Dead of Summer
By Enrique Castillo
Enrique J. Castillo’s novel debuts at a moment when populism is on the rise and Americans are demanding for immigration reform and justice for undocumented immigrants. The timing couldn’t be better.
The Dead of Summer quickly grabs readers and takes them on a nail biting odyssey of good and evil, a story manipulated by plots of betrayal, psychopath murders, criminal activities, and threats that undocumented immigrants, especially women crossing the Mexican border, encounter on a regular basis.
The story takes place between the U.S. Imperial Valley in southeastern California, bordered by the Colorado River to the east and the Salton Sea to the west, and Mexicali, on the Mexican side. It is a hub magnet for human trafficking by unscrupulous men—some murderous criminals and a few rogue dangerous and violent Border Patrol agents. The Dead of Summer was written years before the news of real-life Border Patrol agent Esteban Manzares from McAllen, Texas, who raped and tortured a mother and daughter as chronicled in a 2014 Politico article.
The Dead of Summer carefully weaves an even more sinister and violent predator who sets in motion the wrath of a supernatural being, which mirrors an old folk legend and avenges the injustices committed against Inez and her two children.
Castillo richly defines a fascinating array of characters, in particular the enigmatic Inez Camacho. The story’s protagonists are the taciturn and stoic Sheriff Gabe Luna, a skilled desert tracker and his protégé deputy, Angel Nava, who pursue a deadly and illusive prey. Additionally, Castillo brilliantly fleshes out the evil in the antagonist Jack Russell with a tinge of empathy by taking us back into his childhood where his hate of women fermented.
As Inez Camacho and her children Norma Elena and Armando set off on their life-changing journey across the border into the U.S., the journey quickly turns into a nightmare and sets Inez off on a different path, her survival fueled by her agonizing rage and determination for vengeance.
As for Jack, his nefarious reputation follows him everywhere. After the latest criminal allegations and acquittal, his agent superiors in San Diego no longer want to deal with him and manage to transfer him to the desert hellhole, a remote one hut border/sheriff station in Comal Del Diablo (The Devil’s Griddle). The border patrol station is shared with Sheriff Luna, a tortured soul who seeks justice and absolution, and his deputy Nava, an honest and compassionate law enforcer.
One of the most fascinating characters in The Dead of Summer is a clairvoyant named “Daylight”. She’s owns the Blue Bird, a local boarding house and restaurant. An extraordinary woman with special revealing powers, Daylight knew instantly that her new tenant Jack was a dangerous man with violence-laced baggage. On the other hand, Daylight and Gabe have a special friendship, a silent understanding that they are each other’s soulmates. She’s the only one who understands his deep-seated pain. Daylight’s loyal employee, Mateo, an armless midget who manages to do everything despite the lack of his upper limbs, is extremely protective of his boss and secretly wishes she would confess her love to Gabe.
The novel visually captivates the reader through the written word. The plot’s twists and turns mix reality and magic realism, and is a literal page-turner. The modern day plight of Inez mirrors that of the folk tale legend La Llorona (the weeping woman) whose loss of her children sets her fate to and infinite search for them. But Inez is also intent at seeking retribution for the countless women who continue to be violated and murdered along the Mexican/U.S. border.
The Dead of Summer is a crime thriller packed with memorable characters mired in crime, action and adventure. Move over Joseph Wambaugh and make room for Enrique J. Castillo, an author with the chops to weave a crime thriller and add a touch of magic realism to boot.