Ghosts of the Desert

Written by Ryan Ireland

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

Ghosts of the Desert
Point Blank / Oneworld Publications
RRP: £8.99
Released: May 5 2016

What to do if you are not Jack Reacher but you are in Jack Reacher territory? Would you even know that you were in Jack Reacher territory? You might think that a drive from Indiana into the desert country south of Provo in Utah is just a matter of distance; you have your station wagon and some supplies; you reckon your quality will be recognised because some official back east gave you a research grant to pay for your fuel; and even the haggard waitress in the last diner before the big nothing – the one who has made you blush – even she has not made you turn back. And then – bang! You have been shot, crippled, dragged into a desert fortress disguised as a decaying mining camp, and still you have not asked yourself “What would Jack Reacher do?”

Mister – your name is Norman, but this once I will call you mister – you are no Jack Reacher.

Norman's wound heals but he discovers the desert heat and the distances make escape impossible. On his one big attempt he walks a psychological Möbius strip and finds himself back at the camp where the Big Daddy figure, Jacoby, talks of philosophy as he deals out drops of water and small pieces of dried meat. In the cupboard at the back of his house – Jacoby maintains his position in the one-time mine manager's house while his followers live in shacks – is the Madonna, a living figure as grotesque as anything Reacher ever encountered. And out in the desert, perhaps in the graveyards of the ghost towns, perhaps fresher from a road kill on one of the few roads that pass their lands, there are bodies to carve and bring back to the camp.

In flashbacks we learn that Norman perhaps cannot return without risking prosecution for a major offence he may have committed in his university life. And in his one big break he also discovers that no one believes his tale of Jacoby's family. He is trapped in the desert. Norman hears that there are rival clans across the wilderness; five or six days travel away, but wonders more why guides bringing strangers should start to appear only for both to be murdered. If Norman does not discover an answer why, he finds a purpose in a last bloodbath shoot-out of clans, guides and family which seems to have been arranged just for him.

Jacoby, Norman, the Madonna – none are one thing or another. Ghosts Of The Desert is similar – it shares a lot of features withpost-apocalyptic science fiction, meanwhile it is written in the style of William Burroughs and the Beats, which mostly means it is written without apostrophes ('But now you takin part.' and 'You’re a part of our clan now') and with points of view that swerve massively, yet it also depends on being set in recent history, after the Vietnam Wa,r but before the introduction of mobile telephones.

So if you think that Jack Reacher is larger than life and want to know what a more ordinary man might do in extreme circumstances, Ghosts Of The Desert might start to give you an idea. On the other hand, anyone who has read J G Ballard's Concrete Island, which is set near the M4 flyover in West London, may think that it could have taken place without leaving a big city at all.

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