Monsters in the Desert

Author: Bentley Little

Ross Lowry is down on his luck. For years, he was the support system for his family. Showing up when no one else would, bank rolling everyone’s ideas and disasters, rescuing everyone. Now that he needs rescue, however, he finds himself all alone, until his cousin opens her rural guest house in Magdalena, Arizona for him. Just until he finds a job. Just until he gets over the hump. But things are happening out in that desert town. Luck is changing. Rich people are finding themselves poor; poor people are becoming rich. Healthy people are succumbing to disease, and older patients are discovering their dementia is gone. Strange creatures are wandering out of the wilderness, and the coop full of chickens is taking on a demonic cast. It all harkens back to a New Year’s Eve party and something that fell, shot and bleeding, from the sky.

The Influence starts with Bentley Little’s usual aplomb: empathetic characters in normal life situations, trying to do their best, the landscape of day to day gradually shifting into something monstrous and unusual. Little excels in making the ordinary perverse, feeding us nuggets of information while allowing the pulsating, grisly mystery underneath to remain untouched, briefly seen in flickers of sanity shattering technicolor. Yet here, the mystery remains a little too vague, and the answers we want and need, the connecting threads, are never unraveled.

The characters, including Ross, are less well drawn than usual. We begin early with a stereotypically evil, gun happy rancher who hates the immigrants, laughing while he spews racism and rapes the younger boys who work on his ranch. The way it is portrayed is outlandish, and the overdrawn villainish-queue-evil-laughter moments destroy the subtle shifting of reality that the piece wants to capture.

The cousin and her husband, themselves, are side characters and the focus is on Ross and his desert girlfriend, a strange relationship that comes out of no where and has the cringiest sex scenes ever written. We get the couple’s first intimate moment, which ends with a fist pump and “got her on the first date” declaration, and then a shower scene, where Ross finds his new girl quite fun-loving because she pees on his hand “playfully.” Just . . . no comment. And the weird one-time cousin incest dream? What was THAT about? Where did that come into anything at all? Why was that there?

Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Some of the good elements are the freaky chickens (I never thought you could make chickens so utterly terrifying, and I will never look at a coop full of them again with the same nature-loving innocence). The abominations that spill out of the desert are also creative, and the things-in-the-water scenes, well, I’ll never enjoy a shower again. Even the cookies-come-alive baking scene during a dark and stormy night had me deliciously paranoid.

The problem is none of these ideas ever come together. Why are there demon chickens? What are the creatures in the wilderness? How does it tie into this mysterious monster that was accidentally shot down and is apparently brain controlling the entire town from its death/resurrection bed?

The conclusion doesn’t help. This is a four hundred plus page book with a lot of lead-in and build. We need some answers and a conclusion that lasts more than two or three rapid-fire chapters. It all ends so abruptly. By the time we settle down to enjoy a dramatic showdown, its over and we are left disappointed and questioning. THAT was it? That was all? What about the creatures . . . the chickens . . . the EVERYTHING. Sigh.

The Influence is still an enjoyable read – it is Little after all and has his charming cadence – but it’s not his best work. Start with The Resort or The Haunted.


– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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