The Cactus Garden

Robert Ward, Author, William Grose, Editor Pocket Books $22 (294p) ISBN 978-0-671-88265-5
Ward is an interesting writer who has never repeated himself, from the quintessential hippie '60s novel Shedding Skin (just reissued in trade paperback) to the gritty proletarian Red Baker and the lighthearted growing-up saga The King of Cards. He has also become a professional TV scriptwriter and producer, and unfortunately it is that influence, not his instinct for extracting the poetry and desperate meaning from real life, that governs The Cactus Garden. The novel begins with a spectacular movie-style bang, as tough DEA agent Jack Walker and his black sidekick C.T. Jefferson save glamorous Charlotte Rae Wingate from a gun-wielding car thief. It goes on to involve Jack with Buddy Wingate, a good-ol'-boy drug dealer on a massive scale, and with the search for an apparent mole within his own outfit. The action is fast, furious and violent, the double-crosses and surprises keep coming. Meanwhile, Jack and Charlotte Rae manage one of those doomed affairs, native to the movies, where neither partner quite trusts the other. In the course of the story, which zigzags from Southern California to Mexico and New Mexico, Jack is constantly betrayed, beaten up, tortured, even hospitalized; but he manages to crawl out of bed in the end and get his man in one of those face-to-face knockdown battles that end any self-respecting movie thriller. There's some snappy dialogue, some nice character sketches, but the book lacks the distinctively individual character of Ward's previous work. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/1995
Release date: 10/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
Mass Market Paperbound - 320 pages - 978-0-671-88266-2
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