Cover image for Scavengers
Havill, Steven.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur, 2002.
Physical Description:
290 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

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WithScavengers, Steven Havill begins his new series featuring former Gastner deputy Estelle Reyes-Guzman. Estelle played a supporting role in the Gastner books, then left New Mexico to follow her surgeon husband to cold, cold Minnesota. Now she is back, welcomed by the whole department and already swamped in her role of Undersheriff under the new sheriff, Bobby Torrez. But Gastner's readers have the best of both worlds. The setting is still Posadas County, and Gastner, having taken on the presumably less stressful job of State Livestock Inspector ("What are those? Burros?" "Miniature donkeys." "Oh.") is prominently in the background, even though that seems like an oxymoron. Bobby Torrez is at a law enforcement conference, and Estelle, and early after her return Estelle is landed with the case of a body is found in the desert - that of a man who has been badly beaten and then shot. Estelle and her deputies begin the forensic process -- photographing, sending the body to autopsy, looking for identification and clues as to why the man was so badly beaten and then killed. Not long afterward, the discovery of another body yields more evidence of what happened and why. But Estelle is still a long way from finding answers to all the questions involved; meanwhile she is coping with an aging mother and a case of flu that has most of her family on their aching backs. Gastner, who is in the area tracking down a rumor of animals being illegally brought over the border, can help and does, but the horrifying and breathtaking climax is Estelle's burden alone, and she carries it off with honors. In the smoothest of segues Havill skillfully retains the well-loved familiar characters and setting while craftily turning the responsibility of carrying his compelling stories to a new and engaging star.

Author Notes

Steven F. Havill is the author of the Sheriff Bill Gastner mysteries, as well as several westerns. Scavengers is the first book in a new series to feature Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman. He lives with his wife, Kathleen, in Lincoln, New Mexico.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Like K. C. Constantine, who retired his longtime series hero, police chief Mario Balzic, and turned over the reins to the supporting cast, Havill has shifted his attention from former Posadas County, New Mexico, sheriff Bill Gastner to colleagues Robert Torrez, now sheriff, and Estelle Reyes-Guzman, recently returned to Posadas as undersheriff. With Torrez out of town on a training course, the focus this time is on Reyes-Guzman, who must deal with two shocking murders in the desert near the Mexican border. With Gastner playing a supporting role, Reyes-Guzman juggles a tricky investigation with a crisis on the home front: her aging mother is failing and needs her daughter's help to sort through her memories of a long, rich life. Throughout this low-key, character-driven series, Havill has managed as well as anyone in the genre to balance the particulars of cop procedure with the often unspoken emotions at the core of small-town life. The focus on Reyes-Guzman and her family brings a different dynamic to the series, but the human drama remains equally satisfying. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his 10th entertaining outing (after last year's Bag Limit), Havill's laconic hero, Bill Gastner, after retiring as sheriff of Posadas County (N.Mex.), has become the state livestock inspector, while the mother of his godchildren, Estelle Reyes-Guzman, has assumed the post of undersheriff for the county. The new sheriff, Bob Torrez, has picked a fine time to attend a training conference. When a student pilot spots a corpse on the desert floor, Estelle steps into the beginning of a crime spree that will soon cover both sides of the nearby Mexican border. When a second body turns up and a suspicious fire takes a third life, Torrez cuts his trip short and returns to assist his investigators. Spanish text dots the pages, lending the flavor of old Mexico to the author's finely woven plot. When Estelle requests information from Mexico's police force, Captain Tom s Naranjo offers not only his assistance but news of a south-of-the-border homicide that may be connected to Posadas County's latest victims. The answers begin to take shape with the removal of two small clues from a pickup caught sneaking away from the taped-off desert crime scene. Skilled investigation, happenstance and cooperation mesh through every phase of the puzzle, ushering the reader along to one satisfying conclusion. (Sept. 16) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Series star Bill Gastner (Privileged to Kill) has retired but still offers support to new County Sheriff Robert Torrez and Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman. Estelle subsequently juggles family problems while dealing with two murders in the nearby desert. Solid groundwork for a new series. For collections where Southwestern mysteries are popular. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Posadas County Undersheriff Estelle Reyes-Guzman parked her Expedition between the deputy's unit and the chain-link fence surrounding the gravel pit. She sat for a few minutes with the engine switched off and the driver's-side window open. Five hundred yards east, Deputy Jackie Taber stood on a slight rise in the prairie, waiting. With the radio on the short-range frequency, Estelle pushed the transmit bar. "Do you need anything from your vehicle, Jackie?" Given the choice whether to jolt and jar over the prairie in the stiffly sprung department unit or walk, it was predictable which route the deputy had taken. It wouldn't have surprised Estelle to see Jackie sitting on a rock, sketch pad in hand. "That's negative, ma'am." "I'll be over in a few minutes." The radio barked static twice by way of confirmation. In the distance, a raven vented a single raucous croak of his own, irritated at being driven away from his lunch. The sound floated clear and clean with no wind to play tricks. Beside the Expedition, a few sparse wands of prairie grass stood delicately motionless, their seed hulls long since blown. The rest of the prairie was bare limestone gravel, a rough table of rocks running the gamut from irregular pinhead grains to great sharp-edged slabs the size of Volkswagens. Wedged in here and there were scrawny creosote bushes with February-bare limbs, cholla cacti spotted with the peculiar mange that reduced them to gray skeletons, and little gray stick-sprays that in a few months would bloom tiny flowers the color of the blistering summer sun. Dispatcher Gayle Torrez had hit it right when she'd described this particular patch of southeastern Posadas County as "bleak." Estelle Reyes-Guzman had worked for the Posadas County Sheriff's Department for twelve years, not counting the nine months that she, her physician husband Francis, and the two boys had spent in Minnesota. Not once in more than a decade had she occasion to visit this spot. Not once had the need for human law intruded on this stretch of nothing. An enterprising goat would have to work hard to keep his belly off his backbone here. Rattlesnakes could find a lizard, horned toad, or packrat to sink fangs into every couple of weeks. An ambitious coyote might find something lean to kill on his way through to greener pastures. The ravens would clean up slim pickings afterward. That was it. Even the easy-to-please vultures were still wintering down south where there'd be lots of dead things stinking in the sun. And now someone had found a pile of bones that hadn't once been a jackrabbit, steer, or lonely, wandering burro. Estelle didn't bother to ask dispatch for details. If Jackie Taber said a body was lying out on the prairie, then there was a body. With a fatality, no matter the cause of misadventure, the call from dispatch to the sheriff or undersheriff was automatic. Estelle regarded the expanse of barren prairie in front of her. Whoever had died had done so without much of an audience. To the south, the nearest set of prying eyes lived at the Bordwell ranch, but it was unlikely that old Milton Bordwell had ridden this far afield to find a place to drop dead, even though this land had once been his. And if Milton had witnessed the incident, he would have called Sheriff Robert Torrez. The two were hunting buddies from decades back, until Milton became too crippled to hike the rugged San Cristóbals. With no oil lurking in underground puddles, no uranium ticking away in the rocks, and no copper spreading its filaments through the matrix, Milton Bordwell had grown fired of paying property taxes on prairie too useless to graze a steer. He sold five hundred acres to Dale and Perry MacInerny for two hundred and fifty dollars an acre and figured he'd made the best of the deal. Dale and Perry knew exactly where the wealth was. Had this day not been a Sunday, the cacophony of their stone crusher, front-end loaders, and the ponderous trucks with their belly-dump trailers would have made the Posadas County undersheriff's quiet contemplation impossible. MacInerny Sand and Gravel supplied builders and highway contractors across southern New Mexico and northern Mexico. Dale hadn't told his brother yet, but when the hole behind the chain-link fence sank deep enough, he planned to offer it as a landfill to some rich, garbage-fouled city. Estelle looked at the massive padlock that secured the gate through the MacInerny's fence and let her gaze travel along the silver expanse of fencing toward the east, beyond the final corner post that marked MacInernys' gravel pit, out five hundred yards to where the deputy waited patiently. Jackie Taber had found a spot where she could watch both her vehicle and the bones. She stood on the rock-strewn rise, silhouetted against the morning sun. From any other direction, the buff tan of her uniform blended with the roll of prairie to make her all but invisible. A large woman with square shoulders and thick waist, her military experience still showed in the calm, easy way she carried herself. Estelle grinned. "Perfecto," she said aloud, and rummaged through the bulky camera bag until she found the lens that would let her frame the picture as she saw it in her mind's eye. She twisted the lens onto the camera and got out of the Expedition, bag slung over her shoulder. The deputy didn't stroll to meet her, didn't wave or shout. She stood quietly in her chosen spot and waited, a study in patience. Estelle hiked half the distance, stopped, and unslung the bag. She knelt and braced the camera, composing the scene so that Deputy Taber's figure stood on the left, backlit by the hard morning sun, sharply contrasted with the tawny reach of prairie in front of her. No other man-made object intruded to spoil the view-no road, no power line, no stock tanks. The natural rise of the terrain hid the corpse. That was just as well. The victim was not Estelle's idea of calendar art, regardless of his condition. After shooting four different exposures, the undersheriff bagged the camera and continued on. Other than turning her head to watch Estelle's progress over the rocks, Deputy Taber hadn't moved an inch. "This is a peaceful place," Estelle said as she approached. "It is now, anyway." Jackie Taber replied. Her soft, gentle voice contrasted with her burly appearance. Stetson riding a military two fingers above the bridge of her nose, Jackie stood with her hands at her sides, perfectly at ease. She didn't ask why Estelle had taken the long-range photographs, but had watched the undersheriff choosing her route, taking time to examine everything-as if the five-hundred-yard hike was a Sunday outing with no particular agenda. Reaching the deputy, Estelle halted and turned, looking back toward the gravel pit for reference. "Wow," she said. She lowered her heavy camera bag to the ground as she looked for the first time at the body. The corpse lay fifty feet away on an east-facing grade, spread-eagled on its back. From a distance, the body looked complete and fresh. "Anyone we know?" "I'm not sure that there's enough there to recognize," the deputy said. Without drawing any closer, Estelle regarded the corpse for a moment, and then looked east. Power line towers marched north-south, visible now from the rise as black Ts against the brown prairie more than a mile away. To the south, she could see the foothills of the San Cristóbal Mountains. The interstate five miles to the north was out of sight and hearing, an asphalt slash across the prairie. Jackie Taber watched as Estelle turned in place, taking in the panorama. Completing the circuit, her inspection returned to the corpse. "You didn't see any tracks anywhere? No vehicle tracks?" Estelle asked. "No, ma'am." "What a hike. Who called it in?" The deputy looked up at the blank sky and then grinned at Estelle. "A student pilot was flying over here this morning on a flight from Las Cruces to Lordsburg. She saw it." "You're kidding." "No, ma'am. She reported it to Jim Bergin at the airport." "She just looked down and saw him?" "Yes, ma'am. That's what she said." "It'll be interesting to hear just how she did that," Estelle said. "She's still at the airport. After Jim called us, they flew back over here in Jim's plane. I drove out and she was able to pinpoint the spot for me from the air. Saved us lots and lots of time. I could have been walkin' around out here for a long time. I asked if she'd stick around for a little bit ... that you'd want to talk with her." "We'll see," Estelle said. "How did you approach?" "Right from here, ma'am. Straight in. Straight back. I didn't touch the body or the clothing. I haven't checked for ID or anything like that." They heard the growl of vehicles and turned to see a red Jeep join the impromptu parking lot, followed by a small station wagon and one of the Posadas Emergency units. "We have a few minutes before they make it over here. Let's take a look." Before she'd finished the sentence, the radio on Deputy Taber's belt squelched. "Three ten, can we drive over there?" Estelle shook her head. "That's negative," Taber said into the radio. "The ambulance may want to work its way over, but that's all the tracks we want at the moment. Take your time." Estelle set off at a tangent, turning to walk a circle with a fifty-foot radius around the body. When they completed the circle, Estelle stopped, once more standing beside her camera bag. She frowned and mined to face west, toward Posadas and the two figures making their way across the prairie in front of the rocking and bouncing ambulance. "The county road in to the MacInernys' is the only access from State Sixty-one. Am I remembering right?" Estelle asked. "Yes, ma'am. There's an old two-track south of here. I would guess a good two miles. It goes over to an abandoned windmill and stock-tank." "So this guy walked in here," Estelle said. "I didn't see a single track from any kind of vehicle. Not even a mountain bike." "It's pretty rocky." Estelle nodded. "Not enough to hide vehicle tracks, though." She nudged a football-size rock with the toe of her shoe to show its light-colored underside. "Not a single rock out of place." With one camera slung over her shoulder and another in hand, she stepped toward the body, scanning the ground. "Let's see what he can tell us," she said. At first glance, the corpse looked like a Halloween prank, a suit of clothes stuffed with rags or crumpled newspaper for exaggerated form. The black nylon windbreaker was unzipped, falling away on the sides to reveal what had once been a white T-shirt. The jeans were worn and faded with the cuffs beginning to show signs of fraying, pulled up just far enough to reveal white athletic socks. "Fancy shoes," Deputy Taber said. The man's multicolored running shoes were the sort of off-brand imitations that discount stores sold for nine bucks during special sales. "We'll want Linda to take close-ups of the soles," Estelle said. "Cactus spines, pebbles, that sort of thing." She said it more as a reminder to herself, and the deputy turned at the sound of voices and the idling engine of the ambulance. "I'll keep 'em back until you're ready," she said. "Right where you were standing when I walked up," Estelle replied. "But have Linda come over." She knelt by the corpse's head. Much of the soft tissues of the exposed face and neck were gone, leaving just the jagged, vague suggestion of features. Prairie scavengers might have accounted for much of the facial damage, but not the condition of the skull. From the prominence of the left mastoid, that bony protuberance just behind the ear, to the upper temporal ridge of the parietal bone, the upper left portion of the skullcap was missing. Estelle settled back on her haunches and frowned. The frown deepened at the sound of a siren in the distance. A marked county unit arrived by the gravel pit in a cloud of dust, and she could hear the bark of Deputy Taber's radio as the new arrival announced his presence. Deputy Dennis Collins liked to talk on the radio, the telephone, over E-mail, or a cup of coffee. Jackie was quick to cut him off, and in a moment, Estelle saw him jogging across the prairie, leaving the county car behind. Fortune had smiled when airport manager Jim Bergin first called the Sheriff's Office and Deputy Collins hadn't been in the building to respond first to this call. Estelle beckoned to Linda Real, and when the photographer joined her, said, "Sorry to tear you away on a Sunday morning." "Is okay, is okay," Linda said, eyes flicking over the corpse and the surrounding prairie. "This is gross." "Yep. And really interesting." Estelle knelt and pointed at the skull damage with the tip of her pen. "We can blame the ravens for a lot of the soft tissue loss, but not for the open fractures." "That's more than I need to know already," Linda said, but her hand was opening the cover of one of her camera bags. "Do we know who this is?" Linda wrinkled her nose and avoided kneeling down for a closer look. "Not yet." "Gunshot?" "I don't know. It doesn't look right, somehow. With a gunshot, there's usually some wound of entrance that's more or less obvious. I don't see that. Of course, with most of the face missing ..." She shrugged. "It's just hard to tell. Gunshot is the most likely thing, I suppose." She straightened up and looked at Linda. "I took a few general quick shots. What I'm most interested in are closeups of the victim's shoe soles, this head damage ... before he's moved." "You got it." "And anything else that you can think of," Estelle said. "Film's cheap." She lowered her voice another notch. "And by the way, I think I've got a good photo of Jackie for February." Linda flashed a lopsided smile. "Neat," she said. "And I got an unbelievable shot yesterday of Tommy. He was in his grubbies, up to here"-she tapped her left elbow with her right hand-"working on his motorcycle." She glanced around to make sure none of the others were within earshot. "Just the sheriff, Collins, and Abeyta to go, and we'll have the whole gang." She flashed a wider smile. "So neat." She gently placed her voluminous camera bag several paces from the corpse. While she rummaged for her equipment, Estelle motioned for the others to approach. Dr. Alan Perrone, the Posadas County Coroner and assistant state medical examiner, walked with his hands in his pockets, one click faster than a shuffle. His eyes were glued to the rough prairie under his feet. Dennis Collins hustled. Continue... Excerpted from Scavengers by Steven F. Havill Copyright © 2002 by Steven F. Havill Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.