Book review: Desert Angel by Charlie Price

Fourteen-year-old Angel has had a tough start to life. Dragged around by her mother as she moves from one abusive relationship to the other, they’ve never stayed anywhere for very long. But latest boyfriend Scotty is in a different league to the others and when Angel discovers her mother murdered one morning she becomes his next target.

Fleeing their trailer in the Californian desert, Angel embarks on a journey of survival. With no money, food or shelter and in harsh and unwelcoming surroundings she must escape Scotty before he finds her and kills her too. But he has an advantage, he’s an illegal hunter and Angel is the prey. Her only chance of survival is by enlisting the help of strangers, but by doing so she also brings danger on them. Angel can only see one way out…get Scottie before he gets her first.
You know when you pick a book up just to have a quick look, not intending to actually read it there and then, but suddenly find an afternoon gone and a couple of hundred pages covered? That’s what happened with Desert Angel. It only arrived that morning and I was tidying away when I took a peak and became hooked to the story. A couple of hours later and the whole book was finished. It’s a pretty fast paced read and one where you just have to know how it will end.
From the very first paragraph this book is hard-hitting and brutal, even shocking. Charlie Price doesn’t ease us in slowly to Angel’s bleak existence. It’s driven home from the very beginning and within the first chapter we’re given some violent and disturbing scenes of abuse and murder.
Angel’s a tough girl, who’s led a tough life very different to the one most of us will be accustomed to and so normal rules don’t apply. No one knows of her and her mother, nobody would miss her and having lived her life fleeing the system she’s fearful of it so it’s not where she turns. Her instinct is to do as she always has, take care of herself, and I thought Price portrays her plight perfectly. Scotty is awful and a very believable threat and the whole book had the feel of one of those movies where the villain keeps popping up suddenly making you jump. Actually, I can see this book making a great film.
The book is set in the Californian desert and the stark landscape makes a brilliant, eerie, backdrop for this game of cat and mouse.  Populated mainly by settlers from nearby Mexico, some illegally, Angel finds herself in the care of a reluctant Hispanic community. To begin they are suspicious of Angel, not wanting to be involved or draw the attention of the authorities themselves but under the tough love of Rita, she finds herself experiencing a family’s love for the first time. One of the strengths of this book is how believable the characters are, no matter how small a part they play.
The dialogue is particularly powerful, very blunt and authentic and certainly adds to the tension. However I think this may have been a bit of a downfall too. Because it’s so stark and brutal I felt I lacked connection with the characters, even Angel. There was something just keeping me distant from her, so I never fully connected or understood her despite my sympathy and respect for her, and it was the same with the other characters. I get why the book was written like this, it does make it very tense, but maybe seeing Angel open up just a little would have meant I could empathise and understand her more.
Desert Angel is a taut, fast paced psychological thriller that grabs your attention from the off. It’s a quick read at only 240 pages and one you’ll almost certainly want to finish in one sitting. With some graphic and shocking content including sexual abuse, guns and violence this isn’t a book for younger readers and I’d recommend it for ages fourteen and over. In the YA market this book certainly stands out as different with it’s bleak, no holes barred approach and genuinely jump out of your seat scary moments. If you fancy something a bit different, with real grittiness then I’m happy to recommend it. 

Published by Random House (UK) February 2012
Thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.

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