The narrator of Gin Phillips’ second novel is an expert on ancient cultures who fumbles through relationships among the living—and Come In And Cover Me doesn’t offer her much redemption on that point. Ren Taylor built her reputation on the discovery of a series of intricate pots belonging to long-gone Native American communities, so she isn’t surprised when an out-of-the-blue phone call yanks her away from her desk job as a museum director to check out an independent dig in New Mexico. Silas, the scientist helming the dig, shows her “sherds” that complement her findings, suggesting the handiwork of one artist whose travels could reveal important clues as to why her tribe left the region and later died out. Ren’s conviction comes from an unscientific place: She has started to see a woman’s ghost flitting around the site, the same way she’s visited by her brother Scott, who was killed in a car crash when she was 13. With limited time on the site, Ren strains to fit the new finds into her depiction of the world of the lost Mimbres tribe without drawing attention to her unconventional methods.
Come In And Cover Me delivers its supernatural material straightforwardly at first, but doubles back on Ren’s assertions that her visions are real by adding narration from the figure she believes she’s seeing on the dig site. Her story undermines Ren’s by removing the element of trust that the novel asks of readers up front in order to generate sympathy for her. It’s hard to take her seriously even after this reveal; while Ren seems closed-off and private to the other members of the dig, her internal narration unspools in a steady stream of generic scenes of her grief-stricken family in the aftermath of Scott’s death, each memory hollow and disconnected from the others.
When Ren finally decides to confide in someone (whose perspective is also belatedly crammed into the book, offering little insight), the ensuing relationship squashes the ambiguity between them, and serves as a shell for more clichéd domestic dramas. With the mystery Ren represents to the people around her removed, her discoveries about the artist she’s been looking for fade in importance, and there’s no reason to care about what they might portend for Ren or the lost tribe.