Greenland’s novel has a decidedly Thomas Wolfian sensibility, an assembly of random and eccentric characters who collide and disengage, leaving the landscape scarred by their interactions. An election is fast approaching, incumbent Randall Duke challenged by newcomer Mary Swain (an homage to Sarah Palin), waving the conservative banner with alacrity before appreciative crowds of supporters. One supporter currently in Swain’s camp is Chief Harding Marvin, a tough old lawman representing Desert Hot Springs in this dust bowl of heated politics and private pleasures in Palm Springs and surrounding communities, most with less desirable demographics and lifestyles.
The façade of politics and propriety is only that; the real drama lies behind the closed drapes and locked gates of those who like to keep their pleasures private. Randall, with the help of campaign manager Maxon Brae, is wrangling younger brother Dale, a wheelchair-bound ex-con he hopes to keep out of sight, and the less embarrassing ex-cop brother, Jimmy, who can be a boon or a thorn in his side, depending. Randall’s real trouble comes from an indiscreet affair his wife, Kendra, has recently indulged in with the equally indiscriminate Nadine Never, peripatetic employee of a local tanning salon. Nadine and Kendra enjoy a brief frolic in Mexico—and have matching tattoos on their shapely behinds as a memento of the occasion. Now Nadine wants money to keep her secret and leave town.
The idea of blackmail appeals to Nadine, who is also the recent bedmate of Harding Marvin, their relationship turning sour with her demands for money as well. When word filters down to ex-con Dale Duke of his brother’s potential family scandal, it isn’t long before two career criminal associates with short life expectancies decide to do everyone a favor—for a price. Everything that can go wrong does. The result is a bloody double homicide, curious local cops turning over rocks near the Duke home and that of Harding Marvin, the latter’s romantic entanglement regrettably reflecting poorly on Mary Swain in her bid for election.
In a comedy of errors that begins as a kidnapping but ends in bloodshed, no one rises above expectations except Jimmy, if only marginally, who gives a shot at doing the right thing, but not without seeking assistance from an online Buddhist mentor he regularly turns to for guidance. Then there is the desert Machiavelli, an anonymous blogger who airs the dirty laundry of competing politicians and local desert personalities, the revelation of their intimate secrets laced with the tang of revenge.
In the same way that Tom Wolfe sometimes misses the mark, Greenland also reaches farther than his grasp---if just barely. In this slick display of wealth, privilege, greed and hubris, these desert folks don’t do much to redeem themselves: “No one is entirely governed by malevolence. And no one is entirely governed by virtue.”