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By Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press, 2008 ($24.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Out in the arid foothills of southern Arizona's Dragoon Mountains, where Cochise and Geromino once rode, where Mexicans and the occasional Middle Eastern and African immigrants attempt to cross over into a better life, Lena Jones and her significant other Warren Quin, seeking a little peace and quiet, stumble upon the body of a tiny girl half-buried in the sand.
They call in the local authorities, who dismiss this as just another case of the desert taking a life. Lena can't let go of that tragic image, despite Warren's pleas to let it go, and Cochise County Sheriff Bill Avery's flat refusal to consider the death anything natural, sad but not surprising.
Back in California, she keeps seeing the face of the beautiful, ebony-skinned child, and she can't stop wondering who she was and what happened to her. She goes back to Los Perdidos to see how the case is progressing, and finds that it isn't. Nobody has come forward to claim "Precious Doe," and nobody seems to be looking for her killer. Remembering her own traumatic childhood, getting shot and left for dead, she decides she will stand up for Precious, finding out who she was and who took her life.
She sets up shop in a local B&B and gets to work. Having been a police officer herself, she manages to forge a delicate rapport with the local law, but she knows they, and maybe the whole town, are keeping secrets from her.
A number of Middle Eastern and African immigrants have come to work in Lee Casey's insecticide plant, people with different culture, religion, and customs, and a fear of trusting the authorities. Some of the local Americans have some strange customs as well, including the Rev. Daniel Hall, who has a rebellious teenage daughter, a demoralized, depressed wife, and a gaggle of church ladies who think he hung the moon. He's so far right even the fundamentalists don't want to claim him.
Unlike many private investigators, Lena tries to work with the local authorities, sharing her findings with them even when they don't welcome her assistance. There is an undercurrent of something very bad going on in the community that many people don't want coming to light, but some are brave enough to talk to Lena. Because she has worked with girls who've run away from polygamist marriages, as well as other abused and exploited girls, she gets some assistance from the owners of a safe house, and from a few of the immigrant women who want things to change for their daughters.
Webb is a master at exploring serious social issues with understanding and skill, and this is no exception. I highly recommend this book as well as the others in the Lena Jones series.
Other titles in the Lena Jones series include DESERT NOIR, DESERT SHADOWS, DESERT WIVES, and DESERT RUN.
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