In 2003, when Betty Webb wrote the second Lena Jones mystery, Desert Wives, few of us were aware of the polygamy sects in Arizona and Utah. Even though Warren Jeffs, the leader of a fundamentalist polygamist cult has been convicted, those sects continue to thrive while creating problems for all of society. Now, in the sixth book, Desert Lost, Webb once again involves Lena in a case involving those sects.
Lena was working on a case in a Scottsdale storage yard, when she heard strange noises, and found the dumped body of a woman. From the woman's dress, Lena concluded she was a polygamist. But, what was she doing in Scottsdale, Arizona? Even the police didn't want to believe polygamists were in Scottsdale, but Rosella, a former sister-wife, recognized the dead woman. Before Rosella took her kids and ran again, she hired Lena to find Celeste's killer.
As Lena spies on a compound across from the storage yard, she digs up more stories of the cult, and the boys who have been expelled from the sect, the lost boys. Left on the streets of Phoenix, Flagstaff, and other large cities, these boys are thrown out so other men can have multiple wives. They're thrown out with little education, no skills, and little chance for a productive life. When Celeste's son is arrested for her murder, Lena finds a boy on drugs, turning tricks to get money. And, one of the other sister-wives begs Lena to rescue her son before he's kicked out. With Lena's own troubled childhood, she's desperate to help these boys, if she can.
At times, Lena is dragged out of her primary case when she has to go to LA to deal with threats to a client. This case seems intrusive to the story of Desert Lost, but it is important to know Lena is getting a great deal of money working for TV, enough that she can indulge her passion, helping wounded women and children.
The mystery of who killed Celeste takes second place in Desert Lost. Instead, there's a greater focus on the lost boys, and the fundamentalist sect. Lena is determined to find the killer, but her own past comes back to haunt her when a beloved figure returns, and is threatened by Lena's investigation. And, another one of Lena's relationships is threatened by her childhood wounds.
No one does a better job than Betty Webb in exposing the secret sins hidden in our society. Desert Lost, like Desert Wives, drags polygamy and all of the accompanying issues, into the light of day.
Betty Webb's website is http://www.bettywebb-mystery.com
Desert Lost by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781590586815 (hardcover), 264p.
FTC Full Disclosure: I read a review copy, sent by the publisher, in hopes I would review the book.