The Cactus Garden

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jack Walker is a hotshot DEA agent, youthfully confident of his own immortality and secure in the knowledge he is always one step ahead of the competition. So much so, that when fortune gives him an opportunity to befriend Charlotte Rae he jumps at the chance. Through Charlotte Rae, Jack can gain the confidence of the flamboyant Buddy Wingate. Wingate, a prominent businessman, is also a significant dealer in the California drug scene. Walker’s colleagues are skeptical of his proposed undercover penetration of Wingate’s organization. Eventually, Walker’s superiors grant final approval with great reluctance.

Determined to prove his critics wrong, Walker breaks every rule in the covert operations manual— including a few only under consideration for inclusion in a later edition. Yet luck, elan, and stupidity can only last for so long. Walker finds himself isolated, captured, tortured, and destined for a long and painful death. Although nothing in his life indicates any reason he should be deserving of such luck, Walker draws one last card and lays down a royal flush. With a flourish and a sneer, he seizes the day, vanquishes the forces of evil, and almost rides blissfully off into the sunset.

Ward collected the Los Angeles PEN Award for best novel in 1985 and a similar NEA award in 1992. THE CACTUS GARDEN represents a definite literary step backwards. The characters are one- dimensional, the plot line predictable, and the misfortunes Ward visits on his protagonist require a classic deus ex machina conclusion that stretches credulity to the limit. Still, readers who like their action furious with little time for reflection will enjoy this novel.