A thriller pits a single mother, her young son, and a drifter against all that the Mexican wilderness can send their way.
Retch Barter and his partner, Digger, on the run from their sordid pasts, drive through Mexico in a jeep. They’ve got the equipment to drill for water in the unforgiving landscape, and after Digger beats an elderly man in the Lobero Range, they head into the Sonoran Desert. There, they encounter a ranch owned by Dolores Anguamea. When Digger kills three of her goats, Retch decides the unpredictable drunk has to go. The partnership dissolved, Retch nevertheless hopes to improve the ranch’s pit that offers only salty water (“One thing certain, he told himself. A drilled well would give the ranch drinking water. What else, he couldn’t say”). He moves in with Dolores, buying her and her young son, Epifanio, new furniture, kitchenware, and fresh food from the nearby town of La Fortuna. Meanwhile, in Texas, driller Bill Peterson has just been murdered by a hulking loner, who then steals his tanker truck and heads south. When Retch phones his friend Tex Hinton of Hermosillo about needing a driller, Tex assures him that Peterson has accepted the job and is on the way. In this moody desert noir, Holm (How Mohammed Saved Miss Liberty, 2007) explores the grotesque contours that fate and the elements can hammer into a person’s character. With a prose style strongly reminiscent of early Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian), Holm’s narrative proceeds in mythic strides. The malicious, hell-born driller is a “big man built in the mold of a large quadruped privileged to walk upright.” He speaks in gritty profundities, telling Retch, “No such thing as freshwater anyhow. Just old water running from its past. Like you.” The relationship between Retch and Dolores is sexually urgent, yet she never grows too attached to the gringo showering gifts. The story’s final third, while suitably poetic and violent, never quite surges alongside Holm’s tempestuous vocabulary—which includes racial epithets and stories of genital mutilation.
A bleak novel remarkable for its linguistic acrobatics and hardscrabble charisma.