Dive Bartender: Flowers in the Desert by T.K O’Neill revolves around Frank Ford, a bartender who leaves his demons in Minnesota only to find himself entangled in a new mesh of darkness in Arizona.
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Dive Bartender: Flowers in the Desert is a gritty novel penned by T.K. O’Neill. It starts off right after the events of its preceding book, Dive Bartender: Sibling Rivalry. The book follows Frank Ford as he leaves behind his demons in Minnesota and hits the road to start life anew. Armed with a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, he heads for California intending to have a Kerouac-worthy journey. On the way, he stops in Denver to catch up with his high school friend, Larry Richards, a high-flying divorce attorney. To his utter shock, he finds himself rescuing Larry from a gang of mobsters. Larry joins him on his road trip and takes him to Sonora North, a luxurious ranch in the middle of the deserts of Arizona. Frank soon finds himself entangled in the shenanigans of Bryce Parker and Clayton Cook, the rich heirs who run the ranch. The unexpected appearance of Evelyn Raines, a beautiful yet troubled half-Latina aspiring rockstar, further complicates matters for Frank. Before he knows it, he finds himself stuck in the Valley of the Sun, his aspirations to reach California a distant dream.
What keeps Frank in Arizona? Will he be able to run from his past? How do Larry, Bryce, and Clayton affect Frank’s life? What about Evelyn Raines? Will Frank give himself a fair shot with her? Most importantly, will Frank ever reach California, the destination of his dreams?
Set in 1977, T.K. O’Neill’s Dive Bartender: Flowers in the Desert encapsulates the raw power of the era. From music, drugs, and mental health issues to immigration, racism, gang violence, and politics, the novel brings everything of the era to life. It also makes us feel nostalgic about the sixties and its beat culture through the references made by the characters. O’Neill’s writing style is fast-paced and super-engrossing. He easily enmeshes the readers in the lives of his characters.
Frank Ford is a knight with chipped armor. He is always trying his best to do the right thing. The way he treats Evie is truly admirable. He gives her space and never takes advantage of her. Yet, his sordid past and his penchant for drug use have left him with his share of mental hang-ups. I love how O’Neill addresses the issue of him hearing various voices in his head. It is indeed a treat seeing Frank evolve as a person. Speaking of evolution, the one character that depicted the most growth is Larry Richards. At first, he appeared to be nothing less than a lecherous money-grabbing sycophant. Naturally, it was indeed a pleasant surprise to see his moral compass awaken a tad toward the end of the book. Clayton Cook, on the other hand, shows an evolution of a different kind. He, like Bryce, appears to be nothing but an entitled rich boy in the beginning. To be honest, I kind of liked Clayton a tiny bit for a very little while. However, his obsession with Evelyn takes him down a dark path. Evelyn herself has her share of darkness. The seemingly innocent Rockstar working for the benefit of the Mexican-American community is an angel no doubt. However, she is a dark angel with her bouts of mental issues and her addiction to drugs. O’Neill masterfully builds this complex character.
Astonishingly, the one character that left a deep mark on me is Arturo “Burt” Reynolds. He is a villain. There are no two ways about it. His treatment of his ex-wife and Larry Reynolds proves it. However, his reluctant confessions to Evelyn during their drug-fueled rendezvous made me unwillingly empathize with him. I really wanted him to get a second chance after learning about his past. This is a testament to O’Neill’s writing prowess as Reynolds does do some truly unspeakable things.
All in all, Dive Bartender: Flowers in the Desert by T.K. O’Neill takes us on a roller-coaster ride. The hair-raising action sequences, the breathtaking descriptions of the desert, and the uninhibited consumption of drugs and alcohol actually made me feel like I was living in the wild west of the seventies. Being a fan of rock n roll, the musical aspect of the book made it especially tempting for me. I recommend this book to fans of action-packed westerns, noirs, thrillers, and hard-boiled novels. People who love the seventies should definitely give this book a try.
- Title: Dive Bartender: Flowers in the Desert
- Author: T.K O’Neill
- Genre: Thriller
- Theme: Seventies, Action, Psychedelia, Music, Thriller, Mental Health
- Publication Date: November 1, 2022
- ISBN or ASIN: B0BL2WTM9R
- Number of Pages: 532
- Minimum Audience Age: 15
(Note: 0=none, 1=a few, 2=considerable, 3=pronounced, 4=excessive)
- Sexual themes: 1
- Religious themes: 0
- Violence, self-harm, etc.: 2
- Crude language, expletives, swearing, etc.: 3
- Other adult themes: 3
- Content: 5 stars
- Writing Style: 5 stars
- Appeal to Target Audience: 5 stars
- Uniqueness: 5 stars
- Editing: 4 stars
- Other factors: 5 stars
- Overall: 4.8 out of 5
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