by M. S. Holm
Great West Publishing

"When monsoon clouds rushed east to the cordillera, he watched the distant etching of mercurial drops."

Retch Barter and his partner Digger are in Mexico in search of gold and on the run from their own separate but equally checkered pasts. Dig, as he is more commonly known, is more prone to violence, drinking, and other acts of debauchery. Retch is no saint either, but seems to quietly atone more for the decisions that led to his life south of the border. So when the two men arrive at Rancho Anguamea in search of clean water and instead meet the jaded and impoverished Dolores Anguamea, their attitudes cause their paths to diverge. Dig's crass treatment and threats of assault toward the woman and her child causes Retch to draw the line, and he knocks his partner unconscious and promises to return to help Dolores. Retch holds true to his word, returning alone and with Dig's wristwatch and money, intent on drilling for potable water on the ranch and providing a better life for the woman and her son.

Dolores displays her gratitude to Retch with food and sexual favors, yet treats him rather cold most of the time. Her own past, including the abuse of the father from whom she inherited the ranch after murdering him, leads to her wanting to leave everything behind. To that end, she sees the American Retch as a ticket off the desolate Mexican frontier land for her and her son. When Retch insists on repairing and remodeling the ranch, including digging for a fresh-water well, their relationship quickly deteriorates. Eventually, they cohabitate out of necessity, furious with each other's company and waiting openly for the day when Dolores tries to rob Retch, or worse. After numerous failed attempts to repair the well and find fresh water, a mysterious well-driller arrives on the property, sent by a friend in Texas to help him hit fresh water. But when there proves to be more to this driller than meets the eye, the seconds begin to tick away until an eventual standoff between the anger of all parties and the history of the misdeeds that follow them.

Set almost entirely in some of the remotest parts of Mexico, this pseudo-Western thriller plays out in one suspenseful reveal after the other. Written in a clipped, confident manner that is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy in both style and subject matter, this story is engrossing and difficult to put down as mysteries come to light and conflict proves inevitable. Because of its Mexican setting, a significant portion of the dialogue is bilingual. At times, an explanatory translation is given to the reader, and at other times the words are left in the language in which they were spoken. For this reason, a basic understanding of Spanish can be helpful to get the most out of this book, but is certainly not necessary to get through the story.

With plenty of drinking, blood, and tragedy, this is a book with dark, mature themes. Once inside however, readers will be enthralled by the struggles of people getting by in a land where clean water can be more valuable than gold and one has to make uneasy friendships with killers and thieves just to survive. As Retch and Dolores learn more about the other's intentions and histories, their dreams of a better future through one another are quickly extinguished. The arrival of Bill Peterson, the well driller, and his sinister, almost supernatural qualities set in motion the story's final climactic moments, calling into question the odds of any character's survival or chance for a quiet, better life. Readers that enjoy waiting for the other shoe to drop and the bad guys to get karmic retribution will love the pace and content of this story, as it seems to be always marching toward what feels like an inevitable conclusion but is still packed with surprises and twists.

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