Poisoned Pen Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59058-491-0.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 04/02/2008
"I'm not a nice girl," Lena Jones declares on the first page of the first book (Desert Wives) in this outstanding mystery series by Betty Webb, built around controversial darkside themes. By the time Desert Cut, Lena's fifth dilemma comes along, she still isn't. And it's a good thing.
Lena is a been-there woman. She needs all the experience she has as an ex-cop and now Scottsdale PI. One perfect morning she and her colleague/companion Warren Quinn are enjoying a pleasant ride across the Arizona desert when they make a stunning and horrifying discovery—the body of a girl-child. Is she the victim of an illegal border crossing gone wrong, or more, or worse?
Once again former investigative reporter Betty Webb shows her skills in spinning a fascinating story around a tough topic.
Webb is a fine place-writer. Her descriptions of the desert landscape and the people shaped by it alone recommend the book. But the culture is changing. There are more than the relationships between the Native American, the Anglos and the Hispanics. There is yet another wave of newcomers as burgeoning job opportunities attract workers from halfway around the world.
Herein lays the conflict. For the lovely child, the dead girl, was not abandoned after an accidental death, but is the victim of a brutal and unspeakable crime. So unspeakable that local sheriff refuses to give Lena the cause of death—for a time. Lena is persistent not only in gaining that knowledge but in pursuing the truth until all is understood. In the process, Lena learns more about herself and discovers more about her own tangled background.
The book is not all heavy going. There are flashes of the glitzy world of Beverly Hills when Lena flies over to her consulting job on a television Western, and as we learn of Warren's day job as an Oscar-winning Hollywood director. Plenty of humor sparks out as well.
Still, Webb reveals, as is sometimes best done in fiction, some eye-opening facts about this nameless crime. And she names it—female genital mutilation or amputation. Terrifying yes, but something every person needs to know of and understand in our changing culture.
Webb ends the book with two appendices (one with explicit language) and a bibliography on the subject. She's serious about this.
I recommend this book, both for the quality of the story and for the essential and painful information, but the reader should not pick it up unaware.
A musician and an artist, Betty Webb currently writes mysteries, teaches creative writing at Phoenix College and contributes a column to Mystery Scene magazine. In all three she calls upon her experiences as a long-time journalist and critic. Learn more about her and the first four Lena Jones books on her website.
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