There is a secret at the heart of Hailey's War, one that isn’t revealed until the drama has played out, a pivotal piece in the motivation of the protagonist. At twenty-four, Hailey Cain is already world-weary, her dreams for the future ruined when she is unable to finish at West Point, her goal since adolescence. In a troubled life after the death of her father, Hailey’s sole comfort has been a friendship with her cousin CJ and an unusual bond of sisterhood with Serena “Warchild” Delgadillo, an LA gang-banger.
Like anyone whose career path has driven her every action, without West Point Cain’s world is filled with chaos and misdirection. She is easy to anger, a loner on the path to self-destruction. Cain is a city dweller, whether in LA or San Francisco, where she is currently a high-earning bike messenger on the run from a tragic incident in LA. She is a classic rebel, whether streaking through traffic on her bike or maintaining bone-deep loyalty to CJ and Serena, who lives la vida loca and eventually talks Hailey into getting jumped into her gang.
A taut plot moves from LA to San Francisco to Chihuahua, Mexico, to Truckee in the High Sierras as Hailey proves her mettle and her fearlessness, agreeing to escort the fiancé of a mobster’s son to a remote Mexican village and later rescuing that same girl from the grandfather of her unborn child with the aid of Serena’s gang affiliations. Using the skills acquired at West Point, Hailey strategizes with the gang-bangers, their plans to save the pregnant girl crazy enough to succeed.
What makes Compton’s thriller a compelling experience is that Hailey operates below the radar of law enforcement, from being shot and left for dead at the side of the road in Mexico to a dangerous - if inevitable - confrontation with a man who has lost his only son and a dark room where Hailey’s screams cannot be heard by anyone other than her torturers. When necessary, CJ steps in to help his cousin, and Serena is a dependable source of support.
For the most part, Compton’s unlikely heroine is believable, even when Serena’s gang becomes Hailey’s war council and hides a pregnant girl from the mobsters who pursue her. There are a few wild stretches of imagination in Cain’s quest for peace of mind and her defense of an innocent pawn, but whether an LA gang can outwit a sophisticated criminal enterprise may be questionable given the mob’s financial resources. Still, Hailey Cain is a fascinating protagonist, forging her way unassisted through the world with the heart of a soldier and an abiding love for her homegirl. Most people would be daunted by the odds Cain faces on the road to redemption, but opposition only makes this character more determined to succeed.