St. Martin's Press, Hardcover 1991
Poisoned Pen Press, Paperback 2007
Poisoned Pen Press, E-book 2012
Book #1 in the Posadas County Mysteries series
Free for Kindle download
Steven F. Havill’s Bill Gastner mysteries are among my favorite procedurals -- just straightforward stories told in easy-reading narrative style. Havill’s writing is elegant. He never strays from his storyline, told from one viewpoint. He never uses two words when one will do but gives a full picture of the setting and characters. His dialogue is real, with profanity when called for.
HEARTSHOT, first in the series, introduces Gastner and Estelle Reyes. I have followed them through several other books but had never read this one.
We meet Bill Gastner as Undersheriff of Posadas County, New Mexico. A Korean War vet and a lawman for 20 years, he’s 60-something and overweight, a workaholic who lives on cigarettes and coffee, a heart attack waiting to happen. Reyes is the juvenile officer, new on the job but thorough, efficient and low-key. Originally from Mexico, she graduated first in her class at the Police Academy in Santa Fe
The story opens with a Fourth of July parade, later followed by a horrific car crash killing five teenagers. Gastner and Reyes are on the scene within minutes. A stash of cocaine is found in the wreckage. Who had enough money to buy so much cocaine and who is selling it? It could be anyone. Posadas is close to the Mexican border. Residents cross back and forth between Mexico and Posadas with minimal hassle.
The new sheriff is a political animal who considers Gastner an antique but handy for ferreting out a drug dealer. The sheriff brings in a young, freshly-minted patrolman from Gallup to pose as Gastner’s ne’er-do-well grandson and work undercover at the high school.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing in Posadas but not much else, if you don’t count the vigilante tendencies of some residents. In a conversation with Gastner, a retired doctor makes this observation:
“We know fast cars can kill, and we know they especially kill the young. And yet we allowed five youngsters to pack themselves in that vehicle...with alcohol included. We don't require much training for a driver's license. We allow parties...We gamble that the ones who are killed--and we know they will be, every year--we gamble that they aren't our own....Humans are strange creatures. It takes a catastrophe of royal proportions to drill through the average person's complacency.”
Relieving the tension periodically are flashes of humor. Officer Baker is described as calling his pregnant wife 20 times a day to check on her condition. Gastner muses: “Todd Baker was one of those officers whose voice on the radio always sounded like a recording. He would have said, ‘I don't like cabbage,’ in the same tone as ‘The world is ending.’ Only his pregnant wife could get him excited.”
That “catastrophe of royal proportions” comes about, tying the little community of Posadas in knots. Gastner’s unraveling of the knots leads to a white-knuckle ending.
Special Note: Book #10 in the series -- RED, GREEN OR MURDER -- is one of the books I donated in hardcover to the local library in memory of my brother-in-law. Currently it’s a free e-book on Kindle.
Review by Pat Browning