The New York Times reports that in 2013, the Pima County (Arizona) Medical Examiner’s office unveiled a computerized mapping database bearing the records of 1,826 migrants who died in the desert, listing GPS coordinates for where they were found and, if known, their sex, age and cause of death. There were 463 deaths in fiscal year 2012 alone.
NPR interviewed Border Patrol Agent Mario Escalante who blames the increases on human smugglers who lure naive crossers into dangerous situations.
"They weren't told that they were going to have to walk for days. They weren't told that they were going to have to go over mountain ranges. They weren't told that they were going to have to sleep in the hot desert or maybe the cold desert," Escalante says.
Mike McBride does much more than tell a supernatural story in Sunblind—although he does that masterfully well. He brings into light the horror suffered by a small group of people, each from different walks of life, that chose to roll the dice and try to cross to what they hoped would be a better life. Some moved to help relatives, others to escape their past, but they all had one thing in common. They had no idea of what was in store for them.
Plotwise, the story deftly shifts between the perspective of one of the immigrants and a group of three border control agents who have just rescued her and are now looking for other members of her party, and getting increasingly horrific evidence of a terrible series of events. Slowly insinuated into the story, creeping around at the edges, a flicker of reflection from eyes watching from the distance, is a second threat. Because not only is the straggling band of travelers dying slowly with each step in the merciless desert, they are also being hunted.
An amazing story. Powerful for the human element. You care about this group of travelers. They are not saints. Far from it. But they feel real. Real stories, real people. The Border Control Agents are fearless in their efforts to track down the remainder of the party and rescue or at least find out what happened to them. McBride could have written the story without the supernatural element and it still would have been riveting.
The Supernatural element is also extremely well done. Slow reveal really ramps up the tension and when we finally know what we are dealing with, it is so much worse than we could have imagined. This is my fourth book by McBride and far away my favorite (although I also really enjoyed Snowblind—which strangely has no relation to this story).
In the end, you can dismiss the supernatural element as being make-believe, but you cannot deny the ---existence of those monstrous human smugglers who today dropped off groups of people in the desert with no concern for their welfare. We can only hope for their safety.
5 Stars. Great horror story. Great story period. You won’t forget this one.