British novelist Pollen (Hunting Unicorns, 2003) sets a love story in Arizona, near the Mexican border.
Feeling numb in her marriage, Alice Coleman leaves London with her two young children to oversee the restoration and resortification of Temerosa, a ghost town picked up as an investment by her husband, Robert. Overseeing the construction work is Duval, a strong, silent type short on communication but long on integrity. Lonely, alienated Alice notices the sadness and fear on the faces of the area’s Mexicans, who are the subject of extreme local opinions. Alice comes alive in the desert and in the company of Duval, but she’s also suspicious of him. He turns out to be a smuggler, though a principled one: Motivated by the fate of his girlfriend, raped and murdered two decades earlier by nasty character “El Turrón,” Duval takes no money for helping illegals. The long, lazily discursive tale finally gains momentum when Alice and Duval consummate their feelings, Robert arrives unexpectedly and a vigilante group called Ranch Rights gets gun-happy. Murder, attempted rape and a near-death march in the desert contribute to a helter-skelter conclusion that manages to balance romance with doing the right thing.
Engagingly perky, with big themes—justice, immigration and lost children—surprisingly well served by the author’s comic, quirky style.