cover image DESERT WIVES: A Lena Jones Mystery

DESERT WIVES: A Lena Jones Mystery

Betty Webb, . . Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (300pp) ISBN 978-1-59058-030-1

Dark humor and thrilling action inform Webb's second Lena Jones mystery (after 2001's Desert Noir), a searing exposé of the abuses of contemporary polygamy. The private detective is helping a client, 13-year-old Rebecca Corbett, to flee Purity, a polygamist compound on the Utah-Arizona border, when they stumble on the shotgunned body of Prophet Solomon Royal, the 68-year-old leader of the Church of the Prophet Fundamental—and Rebecca's fiancé. Rebecca's mother, Esther, welcomes the girl with open arms, but when Esther's charged with the prophet's murder, Lena takes on the seemingly hopeless task of finding the real killer. Posing as a polygamist wife, Lena infiltrates Purity, where she unearths a closely guarded secret kept by the cult's Council of Elders. Meanwhile, the savvy investigator, who as a four-year-old child was shot by her mother and left for dead, learns more about her past. Rescued and raised by an Indian woman, Lena has grown into a scarred adult. Love and easy social contacts elude her. Lena can count on a few allies, including her Pima Indian partner, Jimmy Sisiwan, but she remains a loner, dependent on her own abilities—and the .38 strapped to her leg. The beauty of the Southwestern backdrop belies the harshness of life, the corrupt officials, brutal men and frightened women depicted in this arresting novel brimming with moral outrage. (Jan. 7)

Forecast:The recent conviction of Utah polygamist Tom Green has helped bring this issue to national attention. In an author's note, Webb, an Arizona journalist, tells readers what they can do to overcome public and governmental apathy. If the nation isn't too absorbed in fighting religious tyranny abroad, this book could do for polygamy what Uncle Tom's Cabin did for slavery.