Cover image for God is a bullet
God is a bullet
Teran, Boston.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
Physical Description:
301 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Library
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The feral wasteland of the southern California desert and the badlands of Mexico: these are the settings for Boston Teran's searing debut novel--a dark, wrenching thriller about personal conviction, retribution, and survival. Fall 1970. In a remote playa a twelve-year-old boy stumbles upon a hideous scene in a dust-strewn trailer: the savage murder of a woman that will remain unsolved for twenty-five years. Christmas week, 1995. A fourteen-year-old girl is kidnapped by a bloodthirsty satanic cult that calls itself the Left-Handed Path. The leader, Cyrus, considers murder the "ultimate freedom, ultimate joy . . . ultimate service." His "tribe" is a group of drug-fueled young psychopaths honing their skills under the tutelage of a master. Helter Skelter. And then some. Bob Hightower, the girl's father, is a cop, suddenly more desperate than he ever imagined possible. There are no clues to his daughter's whereabouts, only a scene of unfathomable carnage--the mutilated corpses of her mother and stepfather--left behind by the kidnappers. His only hope is a fierce ex-cult member named Case Hardin, a woman tempered to an extraordinary strength by what she's endured, who's just getting off the junkie trail in a halfway house in Hollywood. Bob has absolutely no reason, and every need, to trust her. Case suspects that the killings, committed within fifty miles of each other and separated by a quarter of a century, are part of a byzantine nightmare she knows too well, a nightmare that has now engulfed Bob's daughter. Their quest--he for his child, she to exorcise her demons--becomes a primal hunt-and-chase through a savage subculture of drugs and ritualistic violence ("the black land of plenty") that takes them inexorably toward the limits of physical and psychological torment and trauma. God Is a Bullet is an indelible story of people who must discover what it means to surrender oneself completely--to drugs, or power, or faith, or love--and, when necessary, what it takes to come back. It is a stunning debut.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is a testosterone-pumped novel of violence and revenge, with a little redemption mixed in. It takes place in a territory of horrific contradictions--the Southern California of Charles Manson's Helter Skelter and Christian fanatics, Las Vegas, and south into Mexico, an area one character calls "Little Armaggedon." Bob Hightower, a demoralized, desk-bound cop doesn't see a ritual good-night light flicker from the bedroom of his teenage daughter, Gabi, who lives with her mother and stepfather. When he goes to investigate, Bob finds his ex-wife and her husband savagely murdered, and his daughter gone--kidnapped by a nihilistic cult. He teams up with Case, a burned-out ex-junkie and former cult member, in a search that tests his machismo and her determination to stay clean of drugs and cult influences. In her search for Gabi, Case expects to confront her own past of rape, forced drug addiction, and human degradation. Their target is Cyrus, a fiendish drug-addicted maniac with his own troubled past. Twenty-five years earlier, Cyrus triggered the current chaos when he shot an old black woman who had taken him in after he was abandoned by his parents. Whether the old woman died at his hands or those of Cyrus' compatriots, greedy real-estate developers lusting after the woman's land, remains at the murky center of the story. This is a fast-paced, stark narrative filled with unsavory characters--a white-man-wanna-be Indian bar owner and drug trafficker, a drugged-out black tattoo artist and resident desert wiseman, crooked cops and cultists--and incredibly violent acts. But the constant debate about good and evil and the meaning of life gives an undercurrent of self-examination to Teran's riveting first novel. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Strung-out on junk and tattooed with the dates of helter-skelter-style deaths they've caused, the kids who walk "The Left-Handed Path" talk Satanic talk and spread terror through the very Christian Southern California town of Clay. This tautly paced and harrowing debut thriller begins with the cult's murder of desk cop Bob Hightower's ex-wife and her husband, and the kidnapping of his 14-year-old daughter, Gabi. Desperate and driven, Hightower takes a leave of absence to look for the abducted girl. Fresh out of leads‘his search has been stymied by a fellow policeman who's in league with the cult‘Hightower meets Case, a 29-year-old, severely traumatized ex-heroin addict who is unable to forget her horrifying experiences as the sexual slave of the demonic Cyrus, who heads the bloodthirsty self-styled "tribe" that controls the local drug trade from a remote desert outpost. With Case's help, Hightower goes undercover and infiltrates the group. Though some of the book's early passages seem melodramatic, the tale becomes riveting as the unlikely duo follow Cyrus and his gang to hell and back. Teran does a fine job of contrasting Case's struggle to overcome Cyrus's pervasive presence in her mind with Hightower's ethical dilemma at taking orders from a junkie. The moral twists and turns of the searing narrative are jolting; the pair are even forced to commit murder for Cyrus before a climactic showdown in the desert. Cynical and DeLillo-like in its observations, paced with present-tense immediacy, Teran's hard-boiled prose does not belittle the tragedy at this novel's core. Not for the faint-hearted, the book is as addictive as illegal substances. Agent, David Hale Smith. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This first novel is pretty standard thriller fareÄcorrupt sheriff John Lee Bacon hires bad guy Cyrus to kill his wife's lover, Sam. But Cyrus also kills Sam's wife, Sarah, and kidnaps Gabi, Sarah's teenaged daughter from her first marriage to Bob. Bob just happens to be a cop working for Sheriff Bacon, and now Bob must rescue his daughter from Cyrus. This vicious circle is embedded in a dark cult world of drugs, pornography, and violenceÄCyrus is a Charles Manson-like guru with a band of drugged-out, bloodthirsty followers who pursue the satanic "Left-Handed Path." This gives Teran an excuse to focus on graphic violence, depraved sex, and gross obscenities, demonstrating his "toughness." But he often pushes a metaphor too hard (describing Bob's truck as a "tin-sided garden of agony cruising in second gear") and sounds ridiculous instead of hard-bitten. At once silly and distasteful; not recommended.ÄRebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



A small wooden windmill sits on top a mailbox near the entrance to a dirt driveway that crooks its way up a hill and onto a flat prow of stony ground and ends at a fifties-style ranch house. As the windmill's warped vanes creak, five figures emerge from the brush like a coven conjured out of the black earth. They are a patchquilt of jeans and leathers. Bare-soled boots and chain-braided vests over scrubby T-shirts. One, a boy named Gutter, has a safety pin awled through his lower lip. Another, a girl named Lena, has her hair greased back and dyed up like a rainbow. Their faces and arms are tattooed with anarchistic designs. They have pistols and knives wedged into their belts and boots. As they fan into the darkness they are a vision of post-apocalyptic rock-and-roll revenants. Cyrus stops them about fifty yards shy of the house and looks the grounds over. The bushes by the front door are tasseled with holiday lights and dance to the wind like illuminated ghosts. He looks back down at the road. Via Princessa cuts a silent, pitch-dark path around the hills toward the freeway. He listens and waits, his senses taking everything in quarter by quarter. The only sound is the windmill's rusted spoke arcing round its unvarying center. He gives orders silently, using a spartan wave of the blue barrel of his shotgun. He sends Granny Boy and Wood across the driveway to follow a ravine that backs up and around the house toward the shed and corral where the girl keeps her horse. Lena is sent along a row of cypress trees to the near side of the house, which faces the Antelope Freeway. She is to check out a set of glass patio doors that lead from the den to the pool. Gutter is left behind in case some car comes along Via Princessa and turns up into the driveway. He's only to make for the house when Cyrus lets him know it's dyin' time.        Gabi sits alone on the windowseat listening to her CD player and watching the headlights of the cars on the freeway flare by. She takes a kind of mindless pleasure imagining the lives tucked away behind those flooding headlights that fill out the dark and then dissolve on toward Canyon Country. At fourteen she is flush with the idea the whole world has a date with something interesting--except her. She is all will and dreams trapped inside a child's body. The door to her bedroom is cracked open just enough so she can hear the vague intonations of an argument between her mother and stepfather. She gets up and crosses the room and slips out into the hallway. She peeks around the corner and sees the kitchen squared up within and beyond the dark frame of the den. Her mother steps into view. She is rubbing her right hand with her left, then the left with her right. It is a gesture of her mother's Gabi knows all too well, and it means she is about ready to cry or lunge into an angry outburst. Occasionally she does both at the same time. The den carries their words through to the hall like some huge woofer. "Talk to me, Sam." "About what?" "Oh, Sam . . ." "There's nothing." Her stepfather's tone has that uncommunicative edge she's heard in a lot of their conversations lately. Her mother passes out of view, and now the room is just a backdrop of white kitchen cabinets hung in space. "Sam, don't you know when you talk like that you give yourself away." "Sarah, I mean it. There's . . ." "Don't do this," she says angrily. "I won't stand for a shut door to your emotions. I left Bob because of that." To hear her father's name spoken that way, used as some sort of negative example, makes Gabi feel sick and angry. And lonely. That's the worst of it. To feel like you're the sum total of someone else's separation. It hurts her to listen, so she goes back to her room and sullenly closes the door on them. Her dog has already found the warm spot on the windowseat where she had been and is making himself comfortable. She slumps down next to him and curls her feet under his belly. "Make with some room, Poncho." He's part cocker and part question mark: the floppy ears and pooly eyes of one, and the scruff-box short hair and gangly long legs of the other. He had been her father's birthday present to her and a way of keeping them close. She glances out the window to find herself there in the night, staring back miserably. The long slender face, the skin a burnished summer yellow pooling around deeply set eyes. The details of her features swim a bit in the glass, but their import is unmistakable. Each day she is evolving more and more into the image of her mother. And at this moment, as much as she loves her mother, she hates her for having such a profound effect on her very being. She looks back across the room at the clock by her bed. It's closing in on 10:30. She and her father have this little ritual every Tuesday and Thursday night when he's working the late shift. At 10:30, as he cruises past on the freeway, he slows down and throws on the overhead flashers of his sheriff's patrol car, and she responds by flipping her bedroom light on and off. It's their secret way of saying good night.        Through the tangled cross of manzanita trees at the edge of the slope, Cyrus watches the nigger sheep and his porcelain wife arguing in the kitchen. If they only knew the book of life was about to close on them. Lena makes her way back from the house along the lip of the ridge, using the high grass as cover against the moonlight. She slips up behind Cyrus and leans against him. The years of pills and junk have left her with a face that seems to hover between life and death. She points a hand toward the house. On the back of each finger is tattooed the date of a death she has had a hand in. She whispers, "Besides the front and patio doors, there's one more. And that goes to the service entrance behind the kitchen, there, on the far wall. I couldn't find signs of no security system." "Just the nigger and his brood in there?" She nods. "I crawled right up to the house and that's all I saw. They got a dog though, but you could finish it with just a good set of teeth." "Give me the hypodermic." She takes a black needle case from her back pocket and hands it to Cyrus. He opens it. One needle, two vials of clear liquid. More than enough to play. He closes the case and slips it into the pocket of his frayed deerskin coat. "Alright. Let's go wish the sheep a Merry Christmas."         "Why are you so sexually unresponsive to me?" Sam leans back against the stove, short an answer. Sarah turns and grabs a photo from a nest of snapshots held to the refrigerator door by a miniature magnetic blender. She crosses the room and holds the photo up so Sam can see it. "Is this all we are now?" He looks at the snapshot Gabi took of Maureen and John at the last family barbecue. A perfect mismatch of people sitting side by side at a picnic table. Maureen a little too drunk to care about the disrespect her husband, John Lee, shows her. Sam says nothing, but he can't believe that of all the photos she grabbed that particular one. It's almost as if she were psychic. "I don't know what you mean, Sarah." "I mean, are we like them? Has our marriage boiled down to that? Just a hideous fraud. Something we make up along the way to get what we want until we want something else. And if we don't get that or don't want it anymore, well . . . we just cast it aside and keep what we have until . . . the next little thing comes along. Are we down to trade and barter?" He can feel a guilty headache coming on. "I don't know what you're fuckin' talking about," he says. Sarah swings the kitchen door shut. "Don't use that kind of language with me. Not in this house." He throws up his hands. "Do you know what commitment is?" "Jesus, Sarah . . ." "It's not just an idea, or a part-time gig. It's a way of life." She throws the photo down on the kitchen table and gives him a hard look across folded arms. "Are you having an affair?" She watches him carefully. His huff across to the refrigerator, passing within inches of her. The tug at the refrigerator door, the taking of a beer, the twisting off of the cap. All done with an uncomfortable boredom. He goes to sit at the kitchen table when, outside, Gabi's horse starts to stalk the corral, whinnying. A high, shrill call.         Gabi sits watching the freeway when something forms a withery outline just past the lamplit tiles of the pool. She leans up against the glass, cupping her hands around her eyes to see better. The bush grass wrestles and bends. Maybe it's a coyote or a wild dog. Maybe even a deer. Sometimes deer make their way down from the hills of the Angeles National Forest, which backs up their property. What a hoot. Christmas week and a deer comes to visit. But then something steel-like and shiny seeps through a row of trees. It glistens once. Twice. Like a broken fragment of a star. And then it's gone. She begins to feel a little anxious. It wouldn't be the first time someone wandered up the hill. She goes out into the hall. The kitchen door is closed but she can hear her mother and stepfather still in the throes of it. Poncho follows her toward the living room. It is dark except for the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, which cast starburst shadows onto the ceiling. She stands in the middle of the room looking from window to window. She is wearing a T-shirt and shorts and feels unusually cold. She glances at the patio doors. They are slightly open. Only inches, but enough to let the night air in. Her mother always keeps them closed. Maybe she and Sam went outside when they were talking and forgot to close them when they came back in. Gabi is crossing the room to close the doors when something shapeshifts up behind her. She sees its alter-image lunge across the ceiling. She manages one scream. Just one, before her voice is swallowed by a huge hand. Then everything happens at once. The kitchen door is flung open and hits the wall. Her mother shouts her name as Gabi is lifted off the ground, kicking. The tree is knocked over, taking a scythe line of glittering light spots with it. Gabi claws at the hand over her mouth as her head is pulled around. She is face-to-face with gaunt eyes above cheeks branded in ink with lightning bolts that drip blood. There is another scream and a shotgun blast discharges and the whole house seems to echo and shake and reek with acrid smoke. Excerpted from God Is a Bullet by Boston Teran All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.