Mojave Desert Sanctuary by Gary George

Gary George’s Mojave Desert Sanctuary opens with a Japanese-American woman in the office of Eddie Mazzetti, manager of the Serengeti Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas in 1961.Kiko Yoshida is working as a Keno runner while dreaming of a career as a singer and dancer. Eddie and two of his Mafia associates make Kiko an offer she can hardly refuse at the age of twenty eight if she is ever going to have a chance to break into show business. The three men sign a contract with Kiko promising to compensate her with a role in a Broadway musical, “The Flower Drum Song,” soon to arrive on the Las Vegas Strip if she attends an elegant dinner as a date for a high-ranking Mafioso from Chicago. When the “date” turns out to be an attempted rape, Kiko soon finds herself on the run with the mobster’s briefcase, a briefcase containing over a half a million dollars of “skim” money for the Chicago Outfit. A chance encounter with the owner of an isolated desert ranch gives Kiko hope of sanctuary. Kiko becomes close with three people: ranch owner, John Stonebridge; soon-to-be college freshman Aden Snow; and a mysterious Chemehuevi Indian, Joe Medrano. During the months Kiko is in hiding, the Chicago Outfit has been searching nationwide for Kiko. The Outfit not only wants its money, it also wants revenge for the death of Frankie “The Whale” Pescatore, a “made man” in the organization Eddie Mazzetti suspects she may have gone to ground somewhere closer to Las Vegas and has two men scouring every town within one hundred miles of Sin City. When Kiko writes a brief note to her parents and Aeden mails it from the little town of Smoke Tree, the Chicago Family gets its first real lead to her whereabouts. Two hit men eventually turn up at the ranch.

Gary George’s work in Mojave Desert Sanctuary can be described as inconsistent, but overall entertaining. Throughout his story, George switches narration between each of the characters in each of the separate chapters. This aims to create a voice that changes throughout the story, providing different perspectives to the same plotline. Despite the attempts, however, George is inefficient in creating vastly different voices for each of the characters. While reading each of the chapters, readers are sometimes compelled to turn back to the beginning of each chapter in order to determine which of the characters is narrating. The two main characters – Ade and Kiko – seem to have the most distinct voice from each of the minor characters; most of the remaining characters, however, blend into one indistinct narration. The organization of the novel is creative, but the execution is less than ideal. Additionally, some of the narration provided by the main characters tends to become excessive, often taking away from the main plotline of the story. While it is understandable that scenery and images must be presented fully in order to understand the setting, the descriptions often are unnecessary. In contrast, character backgrounds of both Ade and Kiko were also thorough, but the reveal of these histories was enjoyable and added to the character development. Overall, Mojave Desert Sanctuary was an entertaining read, and one that could be recommended to readers interested in the desert southwest.

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