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REVIEW: Desert Guardian by Karen Duvall

Dear Mrs Duvall,

desert_guardian2.jpgI’ve got to say this is one of the more unusual suspense novels I’ve read lately. There’s not an ex-Navy Seal, sheriff, or former black-ops member of any kind in sight. No mafia hit men, billionaire’s daughter in danger or any of the other standard operating procedures for romance suspense novels in the entire book. Yes, it can be done and thank you for doing it.

You start the action on page one and with a few exceptions for a couple of hours sleep here and there, it doesn’t stop until “The End.” While the hero Sam Reed and heroine Kelly Bancroft begin the novel at odds with each other [well, how else is the heroine supposed to feel when the hero tries to kidnap her or the hero feel when the heroine won’t allow him to rescue her?] they quickly realize that by working together, they can 1) rescue Kelly’s estranged brother Jake from the hands of the nightmare cult he joined after their ghastly father kicked Jake out of their home a year ago, 2) try and save the other cult members from the planned mass suicide and 3) rescue an unexpected result of Sam’s last trip to the Star Mother cult to which he lost his own mother five years before. Not that that’s quite the end of Sam and Kelly’s personal problems but I liked that they weren’t at loggerheads or sniping at each other for half the book.

Sam is a decent guy trying to save people from the kind of cult in which he spent much of his childhood. To say that his years there screwed a little with his outlook on life is mild. His reaction after he and Kelly consummate their relationship is on the extreme side but I could understand it once you reminded us of how Sam views physical relationships. I like that Sam isn’t some he-man superhero but rather someone who has tried to put his awful childhood behind him yet has also used it as a springboard for his adult life spent rescuing people from cults and helping to deprogram them once they’re out. He’s also not someone to mess with either as he knows first hand the lengths to which cult leaders will go to keep members from leaving.

Kelly’s also had a tough life. Her father routinely mistreated his children and it takes a long time before she’s willing to believe that he might have changed. I had my doubts too but the reason you give could be one of the few I’d accept for such a turn around in a person. And Kelly’s zig-zagging emotions and responses to her growing feelings for Sam again make sense when viewed in the context of her tomboyish upbringing and the lack of positive male role models in her life. Kelly might not know exactly what she’s up against when she goes to try and save her brother but she’s a fast learner, listens to what Sam has to tell her and does what he tells her to during their rescue attempts. From a reader who’s suffered through too many TSTL heroine moments, this was great.

I would assume that you’ve done research about cults and their members, police response to them and the legalities involved in getting people away from them. What you wrote sounds logical. I admit I’d be skeptical about the ultimate goal of the Star Mother cult except that we all know of the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide due to a comet. What people will believe….

The problems I had with the story stem from the short time span involved. I know that it’s a suspense novel and as such the pace needs to be fast but there is so much action crammed into three days that I had to wonder that any people could do all this. I suppose with life or death on the line for so many people adrenaline kicks in and allows you to do far more than you might imagine but I was exhausted just reading it. The quick declaration of love came a little too fast for me as well but at least Sam and Kelly aren’t calling the caterer and looking at wedding invitations just yet. And everyone acknowledges that Jake and the other cult members have a long way to go with counseling before they’ll be over their experiences. B-


in mmp or ebook format

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Barbara B.
    Apr 19, 2008 @ 18:15:38

    Sounds interesting. I’ve put this on my wishlist at Fictionwise. Thanks for the review, Jayne.

  2. Karen Duvall
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 09:06:19

    Thank you, Jayne, for your lovely assessment of my book. I’m so glad you ejoyed it!

    Karen Duvall

  3. Harry~DayDream
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 09:29:37

    Nice one. I never knew the suspence genre could do without the mafia, hitmen, cops and the governemnt. This is on my TBR list for sure.

  4. Janet W
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 13:39:00

    Karen, would this be a good book to read in light of the happenings in Texas right now? I can’t understand the “scripted” responses of the mothers. Is that a cult hallmark? Also, the thought of tiny children being separated from their mothers … it’s all so sad. What if the babies are still being nursed? The story is mesmerizing and I’m not sure why … I’ve put your book on my wish list and will look for it.

  5. Karen Duvall
    Apr 20, 2008 @ 14:26:52

    Janet, I did extensive research on cult behavior and cult intervention, so the book offers quite a bit of background concerning the cult mindset and how victims are treated. As far as “scripted” responses from moms regarding their kids, I can see how that might happen as result of brainwashing, a very common method cults use to keep their “followers” in line.

    The hero, Sam, is a cult intervention specialist who had been raised in the cult he infiltrates. He suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the cult leader, and it’s not unusual for a cult to use sex as a way to control its members. Sam is damaged, but becomes a strong advocate for cult victims. He’s also a psychologist who helps rehabilitate ex-cultists.

    As far as children in the story, Sam learns of a five-year-old daughter he hadn’t known about before. She lives in the cult with her mother and her life is at risk. So the stakes of Sam’s mission get even higher.

    If you’re interested in the subject of cults, I think you’d enjoy this book. It ‘s a realistic look into the lives of cult victims and their families.

    Thank you for your interest! You can read the first chapter of DESERT GUARDIAN on my website:

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