This story caught my attention early on. Jack breaking down on a dusty road in Arizona really isn’t that odd. Lots of dusty roads in the Southwest. Lots of people break down. But once he gets to Gladstone, we start to see interesting little bits that let us, the readers, know that all is not as it seems. So while I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on with the townsfolk, I had fun watching Jack start to notice the oddities. The town is small, tucked away in a canyon. There’s one bar where folks go to drink and socialize and lose at darts. One man goes out every few weeks to bring in supplies. So no deliveries from the outside world. Yet folks have cell phones and computers. So these folks are not ignorant of the rest of the world. Indeed the set up is excellent, giving the reader plenty to ponder and keep them reading on.
The middle of the story sagged a bit for me as everyone was way, way polite. While we do start to learn of Susan’s strange affinity with animals, that was pretty much the highlight of the middle. But the last third picked up again with Haskell, who use to live in Gladstone. He becomes the main antagonist. Of course, Jack isn’t aware of Haskell or his reasons for wanting to cause destruction to Gladstone, so the townsfolk have to make a choice of whether or not to trust the man. Will Jack help the town? Will they kick him out? Will they tie him up and lock him in his car until all the excitement is over and then toss him out? I wasn’t sure until the last quarter of the book how things would turn out for Jack – and that is one of the things I liked about this book.
The plot starts off strong, but by the end I had some questions, mostly about the other main character, Susan. She is Native American, but we never learn her family name. And since she has this strong affinity for the animals, wild and tame, I wondered how she felt about the townsfolk eating meat. I can’t recall her specifically eating meat, but she did go to a dance where a pig was being roasted. Luckily, the author didn’t mind chatting on line and assured me that all meat was brought in from the outside (so, no the townsfolk were not eating Susan’s friends). And Susan has her Caucasian name because her Native American name is too hard for many people to pronounce.
Also, my one real criticism is that Susan is the only non-Caucasian in this book. If you have read the book and know the ending, this doesn’t make much sense. SPOILER ALERT The canyon has some magical quality that has preserved Susan since the 1800s. Her family left her there to go finish business warring and never came back. So after a few years, she was lonely, and started taking in strays – like these sick, dying folks who couldn’t keep up with a caravan heading to California. But for some reason she never found any Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, or Native Americans that were sick or wounded or being chased by bad people to take in and help. Given the racial mix of the Southwest over the 200 year time period, you’d think there would be at least one or two other non-Caucasian’s taken in and who also decided to stay. END SPOILER. Still, perhaps this will come up in future installments in the series and we’ll see a more realistic cast of characters.
The ending wrapped up the major plot points for this story, but also left the door open for the next book in the series. By the end, we have more info about the antagonist and his reasons for attacking Gladstone and we also know something of the magical qualities of the canyon. Jack still needs to find his spot in life, and the townsfolk may have found an ally in Jack. Oh, and part of this book takes place in the town I was born in, albeit I only ever visited the hospital – my parents living in an even smaller town that had no medical personnel whatsoever.
Narration: The narration was very good, Hansen capturing Jack’s often questioning attitude as he tried to figure out what the hell was going on. Hansen also had very nice feminine voices, a British accent, and a Tennessee accent too (when it was required).