Somewhere in Sands of the Desert

GOD IS A BULLET By Boston Teran Knopf 306 pp., $24

Boston Teran's debut novel is brutal. His descriptions of evil and horror are so fierce, I found, at times, it was a struggle to continue reading. The violence is excessive, taking the reader into a world of hard-core drugs, murder, rape, child pornography and terrifying cult mentality. Teran obviously feels there are worse things than death, and he captures many of these within his pages. And yet, I read the book in less than 24 hours. Through all the gore and desolation, Teran managed to force me to care about the two protagonists, and in the world that Teran creates, caring for anyone is dangerous.

Set in the wasteland of the southern California desert and the feral terrain of the Mexican badlands, the barren landscape echoes the devastation and unspeakable immorality that festers there. Cyrus, the embodiment of pure, savage evil, is the leader of a devil-worshipping cult, the Left-Handed Path, whose lust for blood knows no limits. In a savage and seemingly senseless double-murder, a 14-year-old girl, Gabi, is kidnapped. Her father, Bob Hightower, with his ex-wife dead and his daughter missing, is more desperate than he ever imagined possible. A small-town cop, Bob frantically investigates every lead but as days turn into weeks, his last hope at finding his daughter is an ex-cult member, ex-junkie named Case. As these two hardened, taciturn creatures go off together in search of Bob's daughter, they are immersed in the heart of a ferocious subculture of drugs, rape and ritualistic violence, and forced to experience the limits of physical and psychological torture.

The connection between Bob and Case is what brings this novel to life. Somehow, it the midst of their individual anguish and hunt for retribution, they develop a rapport and begin to help each other heal. Bob, uncommunicative and immensely lonely, is tortured by the uncertainty of his daughter's condition. As he follows the foul blood trail that Cyrus leaves, Bob begins to wonder if it would be better if Gabi were dead. Case, who fell in with Cyrus and the Left-Handed Path at the age often, spent most of her life strung out on heroin and completely submissive to Cyrus' domineering and terrifying presence. Miraculously, she summoned the strength to break away from him, and though it almost cost her her life, she managed to defy Cyrus. Heroin proved harder to shake, and Case has fallen painfully off the wagon twice already. However, full of extraordinary willpower, Case tries to shake her habit a third time and offers her help to a stranger, in order to save his little girl from a fate she knows too well. Each character brings personal demons into the struggle to hunt down individual night-mares. Yet somehow, these two tortured souls managed to connect, and in a dark and painful novel, this friendship holds the only promise of hope and redemption. Among horrible acts of violence that portray humanity as empty and meaningless, their relationship offers a sort of salvation, a reason for mankind to fight against the cruel, soulless monsters who kidnapped Bob's little girl.

One weakness of this novel is that forced into the raw, unedited action is some cliched philosophy. Each character represents a certain mindset, an extreme faith or belief, and Teran flounders around with strained dialogue between Case and Bob and even a couple of extremely uncomfortable visits into Cyrus's mind. While it is certainly necessary that Teran explores the motivation behind the actions of these three characters, it's disappointing that they fit into predictable molds. Bob, the straight-as-an-arrow, law-abiding, conformist believes in the Christian God without question or doubt. Case, the rebellious, radical, ex-druggie has seen it all, and while she admits she once worshipped drugs as her god, she now believes in nothing except the here and now and perhaps in retribution. Cyrus, thought it's difficult to decipher his rambling stream of consciousness full of cult lingo, believes in power, and perhaps in death and evil as ways of obtaining and maintaining it. However, while these philosophical debates are not as gripping as the rest of the novel, the do not take away from Teran's amazing character development and they allow a few brief moments for the reader to rest and regroup before plunging back into the maelstrom of violence.

This novel is not for the squeamish, and it is not a relaxing bedtime read. However, if you are hardened enough to read through the gore and carnage, you will become mesmerized by the ferocious prose. Teran writes without inhibitions and without softening his subject matter, and while his style is harsh, the force behind it will capture even the most reluctant reader.


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