She's a Lot Like You
1st Place--Long Fiction -Public Safety Writers Assn. 2023
A school principal in Arizona crosses into Mexico to rescue a teenage girl from sex traffickers in Christ’s novel.
Enrique Tavish narrowly escapes a nightmare—guns blazing, he rescues his young daughter, Francesca, held captive and raped by members of a Mexican drug cartel. He returns to his more pedestrian life as the principal of Polk High School in Arizona but is tormented by thoughts of Rosa Martinez, the young girl who helped him find Francesca and who remains a prisoner of human traffickers somewhere in Mexico, sold into slavery by her own brother, Memo. Enrique makes a bold decision to travel across the border to the infamous red light district in Nogales to find Rosa, a fateful decision he shares with no one, not even his wife, Eloise. . . . Enrique finds Rosa, drugged into a stupor, and must figure out how to convey her across the border as they are pursued by the thugs who believe they own her, afraid to encounter either the border patrol or the zealous militias who voluntarily police the border. Enrique is a memorably complex character; while heroically devoted to liberating Rosa, he’s also attracted to her, a condition exacerbated by his sexual addiction (“Reminded that she’s only fifteen, I feel some shame and avert my eyes”). Fascinatingly, Rosa’s sexual exploitation leaves him horrified . . . as his addiction leads him to “see every woman as a sexual target.” But Enrique has always lived in the interstices between different worlds—while he is light-skinned and often passes for White, he grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and largely befriended other Latine kids. . . . gritty drama . . . a captivating and intelligent tale.
A terrifying story that unflinchingly explores the grim underworld of human trafficking.
Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review
She’s a Lot Like You is a suspense-filled crime drama—a sequel to Jim Christ’s 2018
mystery novel, Ways To Be Wicked, but the author’s latest work stands nicely on its own, and it
is steeped in moral ambiguity and societal inspection as much as it is in intrigue. Christ not only
takes his readers on a tense, action-packed ride; he also leads them to an understanding of the
lasting impacts of debt and sacrifice as he probes the cost of one man’s pursuit of justice.
Fraught with feelings of indebtedness and responsibility, high school principal Enrique
Tavish wrestles with the decision to attempt the rescue of a girl named Rosa from a life of
hopelessness and bondage. Rosa is not only one of his students but more importantly the young
woman who saved his ten-year-old daughter from sex traffickers only to wind up herself in their
Having exposed his family to danger in the past, Tavish wonders if he even has the right to
undertake the rescue, but the debt he owes to Rosa is too deep to ignore, and he forges ahead
despite the moral and practical sea of troubles he must face. He hopes to avoid scrutiny regarding
his motives from his wife and a too-inquisitive public, and he sets up an elaborate plan to
establish a phantom presence in northern Arizona as an alibi while he covertly pursues Rosa and
her captors into Mexico under an assumed identity. Besides, he thinks, there is little hope of
actually finding the girl, and his investigation will be only long and thorough enough to quiet his
conscience and buy him some inner peace. He believes the whole operation will take only one or
two nights away from home, and no one will be the wiser.
But Tavish has underestimated the terrifying forces he is unleashing upon his home life, his
school and his community when he opens Rosa’s deadly Pandora’s Box. His entanglement in lies
and half-truths, along with the psychological triggers of past trauma, pull him into a world of
sexual exploitation, human trafficking and, ultimately, murder.
His journey takes him not just to Rosa but to new understandings of the ways in which she’s
changed: “Rosa thinks of herself as all grown up then. It makes me realize she’s been forced
prematurely into a woman’s roles, assuming responsibility for other people, for one thing.” Still,
he begins to wonder if he was a fool for seeking Rosa and freeing her from her captors because
he can only watch as she seeks a heinously ruthless brand of revenge.
In She’s a Lot Like You, Christ confronts readers with the cruelty and social injustice that are
the inseparable realities of kidnapping and human trafficking; perhaps more basic, as his
protagonist seeks redemption, Christ has his readers reckoning the costs for the pursuit of duty
and a quiet mind.
Moral and ethical dilemmas carry this novel to a thoughtful place that most crime/suspense
dramas do not even approach. An engrossing story rendered with passion and truth.
Christine Wald-Hopkins, Arizona Daily Star
In his latest Southwestern thriller, Jim Christ has central character Enrique Tavish flash back to a trek Tucson-raised baby boomers would recognize: his 16-year-old self heading to Nogales's Canal Street to relinquish his innocence. In real (fictional) time, Tavish will return to Nogales's red light district under less sanguine circumstances: to try to rescue a 15-year-old Tucson girl whose innocence has been ripped from her.
Sex trafficking and sexual attraction lie at the center of this novel, as do betrayal, guilt and nests of lies.
Shortly after the shattering kidnap and rape of Polk High School Principal Tavish's 10-year-old daughter Francesca, Rosa Martinez, who alerted Tavish of Francesca's whereabouts, disappeared. Older brother, drug dealer Memo Martinez had sex trafficked her to pay a Mexican cartel debt. Six months have passed, and Tavish can't stop worrying about Rosa. He imagines his conscience in a priest's collar whispering in his ear to take action to save her. When he succumbs to the whispers, Tavish makes his first practical and ethical mistake: He decides to try rescuing Rosa alone, and he starts lying to cover it. Cross border car chases, gun battles, further threats to the family — and life consequences, plus an unexpected, unfortunate conclusion — ensue.
Christ, a retired high school administrator and school board member, convincingly portrays the responsibilities, challenges and pitfalls of Travis administering a diverse high school. His depiction of Tavish's sympathies, but also his weaknesses — particularly the impulses that send him to sex addicts anonymous — complicate and nuance the novel's thoughtful but realistic examination of sexual exploitation.
Girl Out Of Darkness
A young woman is murdered in a small Arizona town in a mystery that showcases the darkness that can lurk in adolescent hearts.
Twenty-seven-year-old Barbara Pyre is found dead in Copperton, Arizona, by two local boys after apparently falling 30-plus feet from her own balcony. However, the medical examiner quickly rules her death a homicide after finding signs that she was pushed.
Police deputy Pete Caldwell—“past sixty, gray-haired and wrinkle-faced”—catches the case and immediately takes a hard look at the victim’s 41-year-old husband, Slick, a biker with a penchant for aggression; his alibi is shaky, and both he and Barbara were engaged in extramarital affairs. Pete also investigates Barbara’s troubled background and finds that she was painfully estranged from her parents, just as Pete’s son, Cordell, is estranged from him. . . .
a crime drama sustained by gimlet-eyed, sometimes-poetic psychological insight. Here, for example, the author concisely captures Pete’s cautious style: “He was like the fisherman who reads up on the trout stream and its species and checks with the locals about where the best pools are and then scouts the area ahead of time to catch bugs and make sure he’s tying the right kinds of flies, all before he ever makes a cast.”
Among the principal suspects is Slick’s 14-year-old son, Timmy, a hulking athlete who simultaneously loathes and desires his stepmother. Pete is an intriguing character, as well—a former prisoner of war who’s inclined toward unfiltered candor and emotional repression. Drawing deeply from a rich tradition of hard-boiled detective fiction, Christ’s novel is unsentimentally realistic as it bravely tours the dark corridors of the human soul.
A gripping story told with verve and intelligence.
Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review:
Girl Out of Darkness is a southern Arizona crime thriller that takes place in the 1980s and revolves around Deputy Pete Caldwell's investigation of a small-town woman's death. Another writer might have narrowed the focus to this puzzle alone, but Jim Christ broadens his horizons to include a wide range of subplots, and these contribute to an overall satisfying complexity and depth that most investigative works fail to achieve.
Deputy Caldwell is no stranger to strife and murder, but he's less familiar with departmental politics that revolve around issues of minority inclusion and female coworkers who do more than sit at desks or bring coffee and who assume active roles in the field. Deputy Naomi Savage is just one of the women who challenge his decades of routine and experience. She's a savvy, capable woman who equals his abilities in many ways—and she's not about to take a back seat as matters heat up.
The victim’s stepson Timmy Pyre, a "giant with a baby's face," reeks of both innocence and sly cunning, and may be more than meets the eye.
The story is as much about young loose woman Sherry's methods of skirting the edge of danger as it is about her struggles to change her image and settle down in the face of murder and threats.
As Caldwell interacts with the story’s young women, Timmy’s one friend Daniel, and others, he deals with control freaks and mounting suspicions that the town's sons and daughters have more clues about what's going on than he does.
There's a good amount of social inspection to the story as the Mexican-American heritage of many of Arizona's small-town residents interact with law enforcement and neighbors alike.
Caldwell, Timmy, Daniel, and others lend different perspectives to events. While the reader is savvier about what's happening than the investigators in this story, a satisfying number of unexpected plot twists keep the intrigue high and the events unpredictable.
Ultimately, Girl Out of Darkness is about changing lives, social milieus, and challenges to psyche, soul, and body that keep all the characters evolving and human.
Jim Christ does an outstanding job in crafting a story that moves through the struggles of men and women recreating their lives. This drives a murder mystery investigation just as much as any traditional focus on perp and problem-solver, making Girl Out of Darkness a satisfyingly complex, involving, and unexpectedly heart-tugging drama that's hard to put down.
Alice Wald-Hopkins, Arizona Daily Star:
As we saw in his last novel, Ways to be Wicked, former Tucson educator Jim Christ knows his way around kids’ psyches. In Girl out of Darkness, he nails the good but impressionable, the bad but salvageable, and the flat-out chillingly evil that exists in human nature, but most shockingly so among adolescents. Set in 1984 Southern Arizona—between a rural community south of town and the same south-side Tucson high school, Polk, in which Ways to be Wicked was set—it features a brutal murder and its impact on community, but also explores generational difference, gender issues, and parent-child relationships. It opens with a couple of kids finding a woman’s body in a wash, apparently fallen from her balcony 30 feet above.
When sheriffs arrive on the scene, they quickly suspect murder, not accident, and home in on the philandering husband. There’s more nefarious behavior in that family than simple canoodling with secretaries, however, and law enforcement needs to act quickly as the real murderer plans some lethal cover-up.
The Day Hal Quit
Courtney McDermott, Kirkus reviewer, Tufts Univ:
Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy: Christ is a good writer, particularly of the western/thriller genre . . .The setting is well-crafted and it is very clear that the author is very familiar with the landscape of the Southwest. He pays attention to detail and evokes descriptive and realistic settings.
Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review:
The Day Hal Quit brings us into the life of Hal Mull, who was orphaned at age ten and grew up on a borderlands ranch, following a passive, mild manner that also keeps people at a distance—even the women in his life and those he professes to love.
A Korean War veteran, Hal ekes out a living as a bartender who never anticipated or asked for much of anything out of life. But when his boss’ daughter, Tara, talks him into bringing a machine gun to her in the Arizona desert, he becomes involved in the dangerous objectives of an attractive young woman who uses his compliant nature and his desire for her to pursue the kind of life she wants.
Hal’s subsequent involvement with dangerous men, desperate women, and underground lifestyles and drugs is anything but what he wanted from life. As Tara drags him into this chaotic world, Hal's secret relationship with her involves him in illegal escapades that drive him far from the calm life and persona he’s always cultivated.
Jim Christ's novel is at once a psychological drama, with elements of Western frontier survival and confrontation, and a story of crime, seduction and salvation. It will appeal to and is highly recommended reading for literature fans, as well as readers in the suspense/mystery genre. This audience will find the action well-rendered, the characterization intriguing, and the relationships between disparate individuals eloquently unique.
It's refreshingly different to have an inherently passive individual be the protagonist of a story in which his carefully-cultivated persona is challenged by events instigated by a risk-taking, ambitious young woman.
The Day Hal Quit’s exploration of crime, peace, loyalty and adventure will keep readers guessing about Hal's evolutionary process to the end. Its blend of crime, romance, and problem-solving efforts creates an engrossing read.
Vicki Ann Duraine, Arizona Daily Star
Tara was a rebellious and independent teenager but after thugs bludgeon her mother during a robbery, she starts living with abandonment, shuffling her college studies with drug running. While making a drop, the last thing Tara and her Yaqui boyfriend Caje expect is running into a psychopathic redneck who recognizes an easy score. What the redneck doesn’t recognize is that Tara comes armed. In addition to a machine gun, she has another weapon—her friend Hal. But will his arsenal be enough to get her out of this jam? A debut novel and a fast ride through the desert and grass country of Arizona.
Ways To Be Wicked
Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review:
A beautiful 17-year-old girl, Usaré García, has slipped away from her high school dance, only to be found murdered at another part of campus in a spicy mystery that unfolds against a backdrop of street gangs, race relations, and the special investigative approach of a multiracial school administrator, Enrique Tavish, who himself becomes entangled in the intricate web of deception and debauchery that surrounds the crime.
Suspense readers will relish Ways to Be Wicked's interconnected plots as Tavish pursues his own brand of justice, even as he strives to keep his dark personal secrets hidden from those around him. There's a fine mix of plot twists and intriguing characters in this story, which elevates it above and beyond mere mystery-solving.
Tavish suspects a gang called the Levantes as the perps in the García girl’s death, and in return, the Lavantes target Tavish and his family for revenge in a fast-paced story that brings Southern Arizona's urban environment to life.
Tavish is not your ordinary hero. He's a flawed character whose relationships with teachers, students and detectives alike are not always in sync with their perspectives or objectives—not just about the murder, but about life itself.
Tavish's determination to solve the crime gets him in trouble every bit as deadly as that of the victim and the murderer. He investigates with a sometimes-amateurish directness, and at first he primarily succeeds in attracting only more trouble, raising issues that the school, the neighborhood, and the community would prefer remain hidden.
Just as his own objectives and secret motivations remain in flux, so events affected by revenge and retribution keep pushing him towards an inevitable showdown. Or, is it an inevitable death?
One reason the plot, characters, and atmosphere feel so realistic is that author Jim Christ was himself a teacher and high school principal in the region that forms the setting of his story. His ability to capture realistic political, ethnic, and social atmosphere in the course of exploring Tavish's Hispanic heritage, conundrums, and uncertain relationships with authorities at various levels adds a dimension of reality and social commentary to events in the plot. This keeps the story both action-packed and thought-provoking.
Another reason for the powerful result in Ways to Be Wicked lies in Christ's ability to portray his protagonist as a man filled not just with motivation and confidence, but also deep uncertainties. This, too, adds an authentic aura to the murder mystery, giving it an extra edge over traditional genre approaches and reads.
Readers who like their mysteries informed by community and ethnic issues, and struggles that depict the fine line between heroes and heretics will welcome the multifaceted complexity that places Ways to Be Wicked on a different level than an ordinary whodunit.
Alice Wald-Hopkins, Arizona Daily Star:
There's something about this mystery/thriller by former Tucson educator Jim Christ that takes you right back to high school. Think bullies, gym dances, broken hearts. And there's something about this mystery/thriller that takes former teachers like this reader right back to high school. Think teaching bullies, supervising gym dances, consoling broken hearts. Then there's the wild card of navigating the sometimes-adolescent behavior of adults who work with kids, and the often-adult behavior of kids who work adults.
Enrique Tavish, assistant principal in a tough high school on Tucson's south side, is the AP on duty when a popular senior shows up half-naked and dead in a men's restroom on campus. Bright, beautiful, ambitious, flirtatious and irresistible to both kids and faculty, the girl had garnered not a shameless passing notice from Tavish himself. Believing the police missed clues he and the school resource officer set about to track down the killer. The girl was Latina, a leader in the school, and Tavish--who grew up in the same neighborhood but suppressed his Mexican roots--suspects gang activity with Mexican connections. when he wades in and stirs it up, Tavish catalyzes action that endangers not just himself but also his young family.
Teacher and administrator Christ knows his schools, district policies and history; he's created a flawed but sympathetic central character who goes from wielding a walkie-talkie to wielding a Glock; and he sets up a suspenseful shootout en route to Mexico. Longtime Tucson folks will enjoy ID'ing people Christ draws from and occasionally skewers, and this one looks forward to more Enrique Tavish.