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Desert Wives (Deser Wives) Hardcover – January 2, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Dark humor and thrilling action inform Webb's second Lena Jones mystery (after 2001's Desert Noir), a searing expos 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 fiance. 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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Outside of the region, it's not a well-known fact that along the Arizona- Utah border, there are various polygamous communities flourishing and the authorities turn a blind eye because their family trees also contain many polygamous members. Private detective Lena Jones, based in Scottsdale, is hired by thirteen year old Rebecca's mother to get her out of the polygamy compound of Purity. The girl's non-custodial parent kidnapped her with the intention of marrying her off to the Prophet Solomon Royal in exchange for receiving two sixteen-year old wives. Lena is able to get Rebecca out safely but not before they both see that Solomon was murdered by a gunshot. A few days later Rebecca's mother is arrested for the crime because she can be placed near the scene just before the murder, yelling at the Prophet. Lena, with the help of an inside sympathizer, infiltrates the compound to discover who the real murderer is, a difficult job because many people had various reasons to want Solomon dead. After reading Desert Wives, reader will come away horrified that women in the twenty-first century in America can be treated like cattle and have no recourse but to endure their suffering. Betty Webb tells a compelling story and raises a social issue that most people don't even realize exists. This is one book that the audience will be unable to forget due to its subject matter."--Midwest Book Review
"If Betty Webb had gone undercover and written DESERT WIVES as a piece of investigative journalism, she'd probably be up for a Pulitzer...Child molestation, property seizures and unexplained deaths, not to mention the whole enslavement of women and rampant swindling of the state welfare system... The factual details - supported by research and cited in an afterword - are eye-popping."--New York Times
"Dark humor and thrilling action inform Webb's second Lena Jones mystery (after 2001's Desert Noir), a searing expose 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 finance, 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. 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." --Publishers Weekly
"Private detective Lena Jones, headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ, sets out to rescue a 13-year-old girl kidnapped by her father and taken across the Utah border. The man intends to trade his daughter to a 68-year-old polygamist sect member, but Lena saves the girl and someone else murders the polygamist. Police blame the girl's mother, so Lena goes undercover in the polygamist compound as one of the wives to gather pertinent clues. Stark desert surroundings underscore the provocative subject matter, the outspoken protagonist, and the 'insider' look at polygamist life. Webb's second Lena Jones mystery, after Desert Noir, is recommended for most collections."--Library Journal
Two Poisoned Pen Press books recently made the Book Sense Mystery Top Ten list. Betty Webbs Desert Wives (2003, $24.95) features Utah P.I. Lena Jones in a search for the killer of polygamist Prophet Solomon Royal. Jones discovers secrets from her own past when she infiltrates the Prophet's desert compound. Although Lena Jones is certainly the more troubled of the two protagonist, Webb's character bears a strikingly similarity to Johnson's Mary Ryan. Both are emotionally scarred women who rise above past traumas to confront uncertain futures. Desert Wives and Beat Until Stiff are excellent character driven novels, but they also feature tightly scripted plots that are sure to please fans of a good puzzle.
"Desert Wives is both a modern day mystery and a novel written for a cause--the plight of women in modern polygamy communities. Private detective Lena Jones helps a thirteen-year-old girl escape a polygamy compound that straddles Utah and Arizona. The community's leader is found murdered and the girl's mother is accused. Lena goes undercover, so to speak, as a second wife to a man who is willing to help her discover who the real murderer is. She soon discovers there are far-reaching forces at work, both within and without this dictatorial community, that have their own agendas and certainly don't include her bid to exonerate the girl's mother. No one can be trusted.
I'm a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Mormon general membership never hears anything about polygamous life since it was outlawed by the Church at the turn of the last century. In my case, however, I have traveled throughout the region in question, conducted many trainings, and spoken at many survivalist tradeshows. Because of these experiences, I have come across numerous "Fundamentalist Mormons"--at least the men. The women never came with them. The author has accurately depicted the plight of these brainwashed slaves who are kept busy producing and raising children without any but the most limited contact with the outside world. The Fundamentalist Islamics could learn some lessons from these guys about unrighteous control of women. This book is a must read, especially for Latter Day Saints, and we rated it four hearts.--Heartland Reviews
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Top customer reviews
Len gets Rebecca back, but Rebecca's father Abel is determined to get her back, especially since he gets two 16-year old brides for giving his daughter to Solomon. Lena and Rebecca also find Solomon dead on their run through the night. Solomon's death means Rebecca is free, but only as long as her mother, Esther, didn't kill him, and it looks like Esther might have done just that.
With Esther in jail awaiting extradition to Utah and Rebecca staying with her partner Jimmy's friends on the reservation, the only thing left is for Lena to go under cover in Solomon Royal's polygamist compound and find out who killed him or Rebecca will end up married to the new polygamist prophet.
The clash between polygamists and the rest of the world is a meaty subject. Betty Webb tackles the incestuous relationships among local police and government officials and the tangled webs of polygamist families in Desert Wives. Lena is the most likely undercover agent ever since she has a hard time pretending to be meek and obedient and keeping her mouth shut. In short, Lena sticks out like a giant black ram among a herd of cowed white-fleeced sheep. She isn't very effective and spends more time sticking her nose into personal family relationships than finding out who killed Solomon Royal.
The polygamist compound is a quagmire of intrigue, abuse, and male superiority with a loathsome cast of characters on all sides and everyone is a suspect. However, Webb spends more time detailing the polygamist life and abuses than in laying down the clues that will lead to Solomon's killer, waiting until the very last for Lena to have an ah-ha moment and failing to share the brainstorm with the reader. Webb does give up the murderer but it is a wetly fizzled climax.
What Webb does very well is populate her stories with standout characters, many of which get great cameos that don't last, and very little development beyond Lena's passing interest. Webb describes the countryside beautifully but telegraphs the ending with a less sure hand. In the warring muddle of tracking down the murderer and moral outrage, Lena shines like a dark angel that lifts Desert Wives out of the ordinary.
Webb spends most of her crystal clear prose generously on Lena and the landscape, but seems to ignore the basic premise of a mystery is to solve the case. I enjoyed Desert Wives and was fascinated by the polygamist machinations, in this fast paced story, but was faintly dissatisfied in the search for the killer. All's well that ends well, except when the ending feels rushed and incomplete. I did, however, enjoy finding out more about Lena's past.
It was hard for me to rate this. It had its moments. And then there was the fact that I couldn't take anymore about 85% of the way through. I figured if she solved the murder, it would be a hurried affair and probably poorly done.
So, my recommendation. Buy this if you want to know just how far man's inhumanity to man (woman) can extend. Buy it if you wonder about polygamy. Don't buy it if you want a good mystery story.