Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hailey's War / by Jodi Compton

22-year-old Hailey Cain is back home in Southern California after washing out of West Point. Discharged just prior to graduation for undisclosed reasons, she's back where she started without a degree, a commission or anywhere to go. It's not like she's destitute but her home life has never been stable: her father, an Air Force sergeant was killed in the line of duty, and her mother and ragtag clan of relatives, all transplants from West Virginia, aren't all that hospitable. The one family member she can count on, same-aged cousin and music industry up-and-comer, is a reliable counterpart but not someone Hailey can live with forever, especially after an unfortunate accident makes her presence a conspicuous hindrance. A true drifter now, she migrates to San Francisco, taking a job as a bike messenger until an old friend from middle school, now a gangbanger in a female Latino set, asks a favor. Seeing it as a way to make some money (she's well compensated for her efforts), Hailey takes the gig, agreeing to transport an illegal Mexican teenager across the border to her home in Mexico. But everything goes wrong when an ambush abruptly ends their journey and ruthless criminals abscond with the teen, a girl secretly pregnant with a mysterious love child, and nearly kill Hailey. The act sets in motion a crisis for Hailey who, deciding she can't just walk away, embarks on a journey taking her through the violent underworld of gang culture and organized crime from the Mexican borders to the streets of LA and further. It's a personal vendetta that won't end nicely.

In what passes for a less adrenalized but more believable Kill Bill or "Alias" type story, Compton pens a commendable third effort about another tough-as-nails gal who just won't quit, even when she's been shot twice and left for dead in the Mexican desert. It's not a perfectly credible story. There's ample deficiencies in the way Hailey's situation is oriented, lots of it about her past, her exit from the US Military Academy and frankly awkward relationship with her cousin. But the quality of the writing is good, very good. Compton has a true gift for pacing, masterfully conscious of the precise instant to make transitions. There's rarely a time when the narrative loses ground to attention span. It's this exact blend of characterization and sequencing that prevents the story from verging into overblown femme fatale romanticism. Even though Hailey's far from a fully-centered character, her more sentimental qualities not quite counterbalancing her full-on battle-ready demeanor, the author's ability to put her in but plausible scenarios makes this book a page turner without becoming a guilty pleasure. (FIC COMPTON)

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