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THE DESERT HEDGE MURDERS
By Patricia Stoltey
Five Star Press, 2009 ($25.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Stoltey's first Sylvia and Willie mystery, THE PRAIRIE GRASS MURDERS, focused on the relationship between Sylvia Thorn, a recently and reluctantly retired judge, and her brother Willie, a Vietnam vet who came home from the war with PTSD and psychic abilities. The siblings have a strong bond, and Willie can sense it when Sylvia is in trouble. The relationship between the two is tender and believable. There is no question they have each other's back in good times or bad, no matter how far apart they are.
This time we meet Sylvia and Willie's parents. Her mother belongs to a group called the Florida Flippers, women of a "certain age" who love to travel and also love the Miami Dolphins. Willie has often accompanied the ladies on their trips, but this time he convinces his sister that it would be fun for her to take his place, while he and their dad stay at home, watch television, and relax.
The group goes to Laughlin, Nevada for some sight-seeing and gambling. The trip doesn't start out well. Velma, a regular in the group, broke her hip in a fall, and Sandra Pringle brings along a friend, Patsy, who none of the others know. The pair go to their hotel room and promptly discover a dead man in their bathtub, a complete stranger. Or so they say.
The ladies take a trip to Oatman, Arizona, an old mining town, now a tourist attraction. Poor Sylvia is traumatized by a herd of wild burros who roam the streets freely, but the worst is yet to come. They visit a defunct gold mine where another body is found, and this time they know very well who it is. On top of that, one of the group goes missing. Is she another victim, or a murderer?
As the investigation of the murders progresses, the FBI steps in and steps on the toes of the local lawmen, and Sylvia realizes there's something bigger than murder going on. She clashes with FBI agent Damon Falls, who's much younger than she is, and irritates her to no end, but who, she can't help noticing, is HOT. Hot is how she feels when he's around, and frustrated as well. Still, she tries to help him and the other officials from various branches of the law in the investigation -- whether they want her to or not.
A series of missed phone calls, along with some disturbing visions, convince Willie that Sylvia is in danger. He and his dad take off on a rescue mission from Florida to Nevada. They are aided in their quest by one of Mr. Thorne's old WWII buddies, a tough biker who loads them up on an ancient hog, Dad riding on the back and Willie in the sidecar. The loud noises and bumpy ride along Old Route 66 cause him to have flashbacks, but he's willing to put up with it to save his big sister.
Ms. Stoltey's first book was excellent, and this one surpasses it. The mystery element is good, the description of the old town with its legends and ghosts is fine, but what I enjoy most is the close relationship between the members of the Thorne family. In this time when most fictional families are at minimum dysfunctional, it is refreshing to find one that is close and loving, quirks and all.
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