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The geographical desert in question is in New Mexico, but there are other crossings to be made here. The narrator, 14-year-old Lucy Martinez, isn’t enjoying her spring vacation much, banished to the back seat of a car driven by her 18-year-old brother Jamie, the rain slashing down, en route to see their Dad in Phoenix. Her chief problem is Kit, occupying the front passenger seat; he and Jamie have been best friends for ever, and having Lucy along cramps their style.
Then they hit something. A coyote, maybe – it seems to jerk and spasm and crawl away. But, dead on the highway behind them lies a young woman. There’s only one other major player in Broach’s novel – Beth, the late thirty-something sculptor whose isolated house is nearest to the accident. The limited cast keeps the storyline tightly focused as the characters dance tentatively around each other; for this is both murder mystery and a shifting exploration of heightened feelings.
The pace of the whodunit is quite slow, but that is offset by the electricity flickering between the quartet. They are in new emotional territory, even Beth, whose relationship with Jamie causes her to wonder, ‘Is it okay to do one stupid thing? Not because you don’t know better, but because you do?’ Well, yes, out of context that does sound like pop therapy-speak; and Lucy’s recognition that ‘You could never guess what people were really like, inside,’ seems even more banal. It is also true that the novel runs the risk of making easy play with teenage male fantasies of sex with the experienced woman. But despite the apparent glibness of the truth-telling, it would be a mistake to be too British and condescending about all of this. This is a taut read and maybe it is true to experience that we reach for clichés as we encounter some rites of passage for the first time.