is a horror novel by Blake Crouch. Published in 2004 by St. Martin’s Press, the plot centers around a novelist who gets framed for murdering a young woman, and then blackmailed by an unknown figure. The book is the first in the Andrew Z. Thomas/Luther Kite
series. Crouch is best known for the Wayward Pines
trilogy, which was recently adapted into a TV series. Desert Places
is Crouch’s debut novel. He’s a prolific novelist and screenwriter who focuses on the horror, mystery, science fiction and thriller genres.
The protagonist is a man called Andrew Thomas. Andrew is a crime writer hoping to publish his next bestseller soon. He is an upstanding citizen who never gets involved in any trouble. He enjoys a quiet existence, although he’s extremely popular with readers and he attracts a lot of fans. Andrew’s used to receiving letters and fanmail, so he doesn’t think much of it when another letter arrives. This letter, however, is nothing like the others.
An anonymous person sends Andrew a note telling him that there’s a body buried on his property somewhere. Worse, the sender somehow has evidence which will connect Andrew to the murder. At first, Andrew dismisses this as a prank, but he gets concerned as time goes on. Andrew knows he didn’t commit any crime and whoever sent the note is probably the real killer. He follows the instructions and hunts for the body on his property.
When he digs the corpse up, he discovers it’s a young girl and there’s a note inside one of her pockets. The note contains a number, and Andrew calls it, not knowing what to expect. He wonders if it could be someone the girl knows, but it’s the killer again. The anonymous killer gives him a choice—if he wants to prove his innocence, he must go to a motel in the middle of nowhere and see who’s waiting for him. Otherwise, the killer will go to the police and turn Andrew in.
Andrew considers going to the police himself, but he knows the killer’s probably watching him and will get there first. As a crime novelist, Andrew’s also curious as to what’s going on here, and who might be waiting for him at the hotel. Ultimately, his curiosity gets the better of him and he goes to the motel as instructed. He follows a specific route and goes to the room he’s told to. When he gets there, the killer’s waiting for him.
Before he knows it, Andrew’s a prisoner. He’s in the middle of the desert, so there’s no one coming to help him. First, the killer makes him read a strange selection of books, including the philosophies of Plato. Andrew has no idea what the killer’s getting out of this, but he has no choice other than to play along. The killer tells him he can get out of this mess at any point by simply shooting himself. Again, Andrew can’t understand the killer’s motives, but that’s part of what made him go and investigate the motel in the first place.
He then discovers the killer is his long-lost brother, Orson. Orson is a sadistic predator now who’s decided he wants his brother to join him on murderous escapades. Andrew, of course, is horrified and wants nothing to do with him, but Orson reminds him that he’ll go to the police and incriminate Andrew in the young girl’s murder. To avoid Orson going to the police, Andrew must go out and watch him kill his next victim.
Andrew’s disgusted by what he sees and just how wicked Orson is. Orson doesn’t understand why, because Andrew writes great crime novels and obviously likes killers. Orson wants Andrew to see what he’s capable of it he lets himself go and forgets about the law. Andrew tries to pull away, but Orson won’t let him go now—not until he kills his first victim.
Andrew can’t believe he’s capable of doing any such thing. He writes about killers, but he isn’t one. Orson’s not so sure, and he goads and taunts Andrew for a long time. The whole book becomes very claustrophobic, and it’s not long before Andrew decides he will kill someone to see what it’s like. Orson, naturally, is thrilled.
What Orson doesn’t know is that Andrew plans on killing him, too. Andrew wants his friend, Walter, to help him kill Orson. Before Walter can kill Orson, Andrew discovers what Orson’s been trying to tell him all along—something happened to the brothers when they were younger which made them who they are today. The boys were raped by another man. Although Andrew deals with it by writing crime novels, Orson murders people.
Andrew remembers this, but he wonders if he was always destined to become a murderer, because the love of all things bloody is in his nature. Desert Places
has something of a negative character arc where the protagonist descends into depravity, which sets him up as an evil character for the next book in the series.