Ben Jones delivers necessities to the “desert rats” along the way to a small, isolated town in Utah. He keep his business to himself and ask his customers no questions. One day, while getting gas at the usual station, the owner informs him that he was left a package at one of the pumps. A man Ben knows only from tire purchases has left his child, guarded by a big dog. He can’t leave them out in the winter weather. As he prepares to leave the station, his “it’s complicated” neighbor rushes her baby to him to watch for the day. He now has two children and a dog to take on his treacherous drive to deliver items necessary to survival to the people whose experiences have led them to choose a life in a harsh climate away from society. The tale reads like a day in the life of Ben Jones as he interacts with characters who barely accept him for practical purposes, though this seems a non-typical day with the children, and then his friend, the “preacher,” a victim of hit-and-run. The story moves away from the surprise babysitting, down the path of mystery driver investigation, returning to the child at the end.
Ben learns more than he cares to know about the desert rats on this day, as though he’s hit a day of revelation. The child’s father ends up murdered, as does the station owner, who was part of a tire smuggling ring. This had turned into a child smuggling ring under the leadership of the out-of-town partner, a secret son of one of the desert rats. There was no clarity on the purpose of either of those criminal activities. Ben’s statement that he didn’t care to understand leaves the reader in the dark too. There’s a running reference to UPS and Fedex truck drivers who drifted from the highway during a snowstorm, but somehow found each other way out in the desert, huddling together to stay warm until rescued. This seemed to be the setup for Ben somehow finding the child in the desert after she runs away, although he specified repeatedly that she ran northeast and he figured out that he’d mistakenly gone west, so judgment cannot suspend. Saying that, the story is worth reading for all the fascinating characters, their speculative reasons for living in the desert, and their volatile interactions with Ben ad each other. Tension hangs in the environment like air….always there.
I received a copy through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.