Steven F. Havill, crime novelist of the South West:

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Heartshot, 1991 

Septuagenarian undersheriff Bill Gastner of Posadas County, NM., is the skeptical, endearing narrator of this mystery debut by a writer of Westerns (Timberblood.) Conscious of advancing age and his bulging waistline, Gastner distrusts both computers and the skills of newly elected sheriff Martin Holman, a former used-car salesman. When a large stash of cocaine is found in the car of five teenagers killed in a crash, local officials are stymied. A young state cop is brought in to mingle with the victims's friends, posing as Gastner's grandson. In short order, a grief-stricken father shoots the undercover cop, a moody teenager dies in a suspicious "suicide," and Gastner has a heart attack. Eventually Gastner, the surprisingly capable Holman and detective Estelle Reyes expose a complicated drug-smuggling operation. Airplanes, real and model, loom large in the denouement and the climactic flying sequence is a corker. If the villain's identity is not surprising, readers still will enjoy this caper and look forward to future appearances of curmudgeonly charmer Gastner. - From Publishers Weekly

Bitter Recoil, 1992 

An unusual setting, rural New Mexico, and a decidedly non-New Age sleuth give this second mystery from the author of Heartshot a few fresh angles. After bypass surgery, 62-year-old Undersheriff Bill Gastner should be taking it easy, laying off the beer, the rich food and the smokes. But he isn't. Instead he drives across the state to San Estevan to visit Estelle Guzman, his former deputy, for a big feed and a chance to talk over old times. But the trip becomes a busman's holiday when he agrees to help Estelle investigate the case of a battered, pregnant young woman found unconscious near a road at the bottom of a remote canyon. A hit-and-run? The injuries don't quite compute. When the victim dies, suspects include her lover's local hippie gang and a priest who fathered her young daughter. Deftly avoiding tourist traps as he steers his plot to its unpredictable resolution, Havill delivers an evocative tale of hard lives on the edge of society. His portly detective is a genuine low-key pleasure. - From Publishers Weekly

Twice Buried, 1994 

An unusual setting, rural New Mexico, and a decidedly non-New Age sleuth give this second mystery from the author of Heartshot a few fresh angles. After bypass surgery, 62-year-old Undersheriff Bill Gastner should be taking it easy, laying off the beer, the rich food and the smokes. But he isn't. Instead he drives across the state to San Estevan to visit Estelle Guzman, his former deputy, for a big feed and a chance to talk over old times. But the trip becomes a busman's holiday when he agrees to help Estelle investigate the case of a battered, pregnant young woman found unconscious near a road at the bottom of a remote canyon. A hit-and-run? The injuries don't quite compute. When the victim dies, suspects include her lover's local hippie gang and a priest who fathered her young daughter. Deftly avoiding tourist traps as he steers his plot to its unpredictable resolution, Havill delivers an evocative tale of hard lives on the edge of society. His portly detective is a genuine low-key pleasure. - From Publishers Weekly

Before She Dies, 1996 

The danger of being a small-town cop, according to Posadas County, New Mexico, Undersheriff Bill Gastner, is that the daily humdrum will lull you to sleep, and then when all hell breaks loose, you're not ready. Young deputy Paul Encinos wasn't ready. He is found dead beside his squad car on a country road, the victim of three shotgun blasts. Seriously wounded in the attack but still clinging to life is Linda Real, a local reporter who was accompanying Encinos as background for a story. Gastner and his top officer, Estelle Reyes-Guzman, don't have much to go on: a shell casing, part of a wrench, and a partial tire print. Meanwhile, the town's bad girl, Tammy Woodruff, has disappeared, suggesting that she may have been a witness to the murders. The fourth Gastner case is easily the best, no small feat in a series as strong as this one. Gastner is compassionate, intelligent, bulldog tough, and painfully aware of all his limitations, both physical and emotional. The same inward eye that provides insight into his own soul can quickly swivel outward to discern others' hidden traits. And if what you're hiding is motive, Gastner will ferret it out and do what needs to be done. An outstanding mystery. Wes Lukowsky - From Booklist

Privileged to Kil1, 1997 

Bill Gastner can't sleep, eats way too much Mexican food and seems headed for a stroke. But in his fifth adventure, the aging undersheriff of Posadas County, N.M., labors 'round the clock to solve the mysterious death of a 15-year-old girl. Maria Ibarra's body was found under the high-school football field bleachers. The first suspect is Wesley Crocker, an itinerant bicyclist whom Gastner, out of kindness, had treated to a meal the previous night. Gastner feels certain that Crocker is innocent, a notion confirmed when an unknown motorist tries to run down the cyclist. Vanessa Davila, a friend of Maria's, flees when police question her. Then a bright, popular student is killed in a suspicious car accident. Like Gastner, readers may feel stymied until the last evidence turns up, but there is a cleverly planted clue in the early pages. A strong sense of place and tough but compassionate characters distinguish this series. Gastner and his valued friend, deputy Estelle Reyes-Guzman, pull the case together, while Estelle and her doctor husband urge the undersheriff to start caring for himself. - from “Publishers Weekly”

Prolonged Exposure, 1998

Fine story telling married to a spicy Southwestern setting marks the latest Bill Gastner mystery. Gastner, undersheriff in New Mexico's Posadas County, is recuperating from heart surgery at his daughter's Michigan home, but he can't wait to get back home to the land of green-chili burritos and real sunshine. When his chief of detectives, Estelle Reyes-Guzman, calls to tell him that his home has been burglarized, he moves up his departure date and heads home. The action swirls around Gastner like leaves in a high wind. First the burglary: probably kids, but they've managed to steal precious memories along with several guns he had locked up. Then an elderly neighbor, Florencio Apodaca, has mistaken a piece of Gastner's land for his own and buried his wife on it. And finally, a young boy camping in the nearby hills with his parents has managed to disappear, and Posadas County officials are coordinating a massive search for him. As Gastner, his daughter, Camille, and his colleagues all begin to adapt to his physical limitations, Gastner remains a solid center, using his knowledge and experience to good effect as the various cases of burglary, kidnapping and murder play out. - From Publishers Weekly

Out of Season, 1999 

The seventh southwestern mystery featuring undersheriff Bill Gastner again demonstrates Havill's talent for combining amiable characters with believable suspense. The author's realistic ranchers, loners and small-town politicians inhabit a desolate region of New Mexico that lends itself well to the drama of farmers trying to survive a downturn in profits. The large, sparsely populated county of Posadas has a small police force headed by a political administrator, Sheriff Martin Holman. Gastner, the aging undersheriff, oversees the real police work done by chief of detectives Estelle Reyes-Guzman and a cadre of young officers. At the novel's start, the police department is facing a major shakeup: Estelle will soon move to Minnesota with her husband; the sergeant is about to marry the chief dispatcher; Gastner himself will retire in a few months. When a small plane crashes with Sheriff Holman and his brother-in-law aboard, and an autopsy reveals that a bullet struck the pilot, the whole department pulls together to find out what happened. Though the shot may have been an accident, Holman was pursuing an investigation on his own when he died, so more sinister possibilities must be explored. Gastner's calm, experienced leadership guides his staff, as well as FAA officials, through several prickly conflicts with a couple of fiercely independent ranchers. For readers, his considerate, methodical approach will prove a welcome change from the angry, violent paths trod by so many cops in other novels. Full of bright local color and suffused with a compassionate understanding of human motivation, this intelligent, understated mystery deserves a wide and appreciative readership. - From Publishers Weekly

Dead Weight, 2000 

Sheriff Bill Gastner of Posadas County, New Mexico, is feeling every one of his nearly 70 years; first as undersheriff and now as sheriff, he has struggled against the county's long, slow slide into the horrors of the modern world. The slide continues here as one of Gastner's deputies is accused of harassing Mexicans, and the sheriff is confronted with a particularly grisly homicide that unlocks a Pandora's box full of illicit sex and dirty politics. What keeps Gastner moving forward, despite the melancholy hanging heavily from his shoulders, is the routine of police work; Havill is every bit as good at evoking procedural detail as he is at capturing small-town ambience. This series continues to provide a vivid picture of change in rural America: small-town values under siege from within and without as a big-hearted sheriff tries to keep the peace one day at a time. Quiet yet powerful human drama resting comfortably within the procedural formula. Bill Ott - From Booklist

Bag Limit, 2001 

Low-key and laconic to the point of being almost comatose, this latest mystery featuring immensely likable New Mexico Sheriff Bill Gastner coasts admirably on its folksy charm for most of the rambling narrative. Unfortunately, crime fans with even the slightest taste for action are going to be fidgeting after the first hundred sluggish pages. Bill is days from retirement when Matt Baca, a local teen, drives drunkenly into the back of his police car. Other drunken kids, who are in the car with Matt, are unharmed. Matt takes off, but once caught simmers down. Then he becomes irrationally violent and escapes from custody, only to be hit and killed by an oncoming truck driving close to the edge of the road. The job of telling Matt's father, a career drunk named Sosimo, falls to Gastner the next morning. But that sad conversation never takes place. The boy's father is found dead, perhaps from a heart attack, though there are signs of a struggle in Sosimo's tiny kitchen. For 150 pages after the second death precious little else happens. Gastner's son shows up in a Corvette, the old cop ponders a second career as a livestock inspector in a location apparently rife with rustling, while the mystery of Matt's two state identification cards preys on his mind. One ID is real, and one is clearly a fake. At the close there's a neat conclusion to a case that has ambled along at its own pace, like rolling tumbleweed in a gentle wind. (Nov. 19) novels in the series, Privileged to Kill and Prolonged Exposure. - From Publishers Weekly

Scavengers, 2002 

In his 10th entertaining outing, Havill's laconic hero, Bill Gastner, after retiring as sheriff of Posadas County, New Mexico, 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. - From Publishers Weekly