The Gunn Zoo mysteries
Click on this link to read the first two chapters of THE PUFFIN OF DEATH
Acclaim for DESERT WIND, the previous Lena Jones mystery.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY STARRED REVIEW : “Webb pulls no punches in exploring another human rights issue in her excellent seventh mystery starring Arizona PI Lena Jones (after 2009’s Desert Lost)."
From David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Protector and the Rambo (First Blood) series: "I've been a fan of Betty Webb's Desert mysteries from the start. With some series, the quality ebbs over time, but Webb's latest, Desert Wind, shows ever-increasing strength. Again Webb uses her expert journalistic skills to explore a shocking topic that private investigator Lena Jones uncovers with masterly resolve. My jaw dropped as I realized the scope and significance of the mystery. Add awesome descriptions of the Southwestern landscape along with powerful emotions, and you have a must-read."
From Roundup Magazine, Western Writers of America: “Betty Webb is a tremendous writer… Ms. Webb has not only entertained with rousing good mystery stories and terrific characters, but educated by taking on the homeless, the dying, and polygamy."
Hot off the press...
DESERT VENGEANCE releases Feb. 4, 2017
[In DESERT VENGEANCE] Lena’s inquiries and the way her moral decisions affect her make for compelling reading. Webb offers fans the profound pleasure of watching Lena mature as she comes one step closer to understanding and accepting her difficult past, while providing new readers with an introduction to this strong and genuinely likeable character.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Webb, no stranger to hot-button issues (Desert Wind, 2012, etc.), takes on child molestation in a page-turner that presents both her flawed heroine and the reader with plenty of challenges to their moral codes.” KIRKUS
“No one writes southwestern mysteries as well as Betty Webb.” GOODREADS -- 5 stars
BELOW -- READ DESERT VENGEANCE'S FIRST TWO CHAPTERS
I was waiting for him when he stepped out of the prison van. The man who had raped me when I was nine years old squinted against the savage August sun and took a hesitant step towards the beat-up Honda Civic. The driver’s side door opened.
“Get in here quick!” the rapist’s wife yelled. “She’s here, too!”
And so I was. Instead of parking my tricked-out 1945 Jeep at the far side of the prison lot to escape notice, I had parked right behind the Civic. I wanted them both to see me, to take note, to realize that after almost thirty years I still remembered.
As the rapist shuffled towards his wife I stepped out of my Jeep. Smiled. Waved. Flashed my Vindicator. Made certain the rapist noticed the gleam of the sun along the knife’s ten-inch-long, tempered steel blade. Made certain the rapist knew it was nothing like the cheap kitchen knife I had defended myself with the last day I’d spent under his roof.
My Vindicator wouldn’t break.
Neither had I.
Chapter Two of DESERT VENGEANCE
It’s easy to follow a car once you’ve affixed a GPS tracker onto its passenger-side wheel well, so I could have slipped several cars back while following the Civic north along SR-79 to Apache Junction, but what would be the fun in that? I wanted the Wycoffs to know they weren’t done with me, nor I with them.
During the trial, two of the Wycoff’s former foster children came forward to testify against him, with five more kids waiting their turn. But knowing what I now know, I guessed there had been even more victims during the couple’s years working with Child Protective Services.
Child Protective Services? What a joke.
When the Civic sped up, I sped up. When the Civic slowed down, I slowed down. When the Civic pulled into a rest area at the side of the road, I pulled in. Neither Wycoff got out of the car, but I saw Norma take out a cell phone and punch in a number. I was close enough to see her lips moving, but I didn’t need to be a lip reader to know she was on the phone with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, begging for help. After a few minutes’ wait and not one squad car in sight, the Arizona heat finally got to the Wycoffs and they took off again with me right behind them.
I’ve always loved this stretch of desert. Miles and miles of low flat land forested with saguaro, cholla, and prickly pear cacti. A hard landscape, but if you knew its moods, a sustaining one. Had Brian Wycoff recognized its beauty as he paced the exercise yard at the Florence Correctional Facility? I doubted it, since his eye was more attuned to the defenseless beauty of nine-year-old girls.
The Wycoff house, on the eastern edge of Apache Junction, wasn’t much. Due to the trial’s expenses, Norma had vacated their Scottsdale house and move to this cheapo neighborhood. It hadn’t looked too bad at first, but over the years I watched it deteriorate to the point where most people would have torn it down and built a new one. I doubted Norma Wycoff, that Mistress of Denial, could see it as it was: an unkempt faux-stucco with blistered blue paint defacing the window and door sills. As if determined to keep up with all that ugliness, the dying grass in the front yard was littered with empty soda cans, plastic Circle K bags, and freebie newspapers rolled into rotting cylinders.
Welcome home, perv.
Yet the house sat at the base of one of the most spectacular sights in Arizona – the Superstition Mountains. Lit by the morning sun, the mountains’ red, gold, and purple cliffs rose straight up behind the Wycoff hovel, as if trying to shame it into beauty. Fat chance. Once my former foster father had been outed for the monster he was, Norma stopped trying to keep up appearances and let everything slide. If it had been within her power, like all good passive-aggressives she would have allowed the mountains themselves to crumble.
The Civic pulled into what was left of a crumbling asphalt driveway. I parked at the curb and watched them exit the car. Before they reached the door, I caught up with them.
“No balloons, Papa Brian? No party favors?”
He said nothing.
“You can’t harass us like this,” Norma said, her chin jutting out from her fleshy face. “It’s against the law.”
“So’s child rape.”
“You were a liar then, and you’re a liar now. My husband never touched you.”
Behind her, as if taking refuge in her bulk, Wycoff plucked at her dress. “Norma. Please. Let’s just get in the house.”
The jowls on Norma’s face wobbled as she jerked her head around. “She needs to be told a thing or two!”
Oh, I loved the way this was going. I flashed my knife again. “Pretty, isn’t it, Papa Brian? You wouldn’t believe how much it cost me.”
Wycoff’s complexion, already prison-white, paled even further.
“It’s called a Vindicator. Correct terminology is important, don’t you think?”
Norma jerked her head back towards me. “I’m calling the police right now!”
“Be my guest.”
“I’m going to tell them all about you!”
“I’ve always been a fan of freedom of speech.”
By now several neighbors had emerged from their houses to see what was going on. Exactly what I’d intended.
“Hey, everyone, look who’s home from prison!” I shouted, as Norma messed with her iPhone. “Brian Wycoff! Isn’t that great?”
The pregnant woman in the well-tended house next door was too young to have followed the trial so I briefly summarized it for her. Loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Mr. Wycoff here was convicted of thirty-eight counts of child rape and sodomy, got sentenced to twenty-five to life but hit the jackpot in his last parole hearing. Prison over-crowding, good behavior, the usual excuses. No children for him to rape in prison, right? Mr. Wycoff is what they call a Level Three sex offender, a perp most likely to re-offend. Anyone up for a Welcome Home party?”
After a horrified look at her new next-door neighbor, the pregnant woman ran back into her house and slammed the door. Several other neighbors did the same, but a few stragglers remained. One of them, a grizzled oldster, listened intently.
“You bitch,” Norma huffed.
“Takes one to know one. Hey, Papa Brian! I can hardly see you there, hidden behind your wife. Get fitted for your ankle bracelet yet? You’re supposed to wear one for the rest of your life, I hear, and not live within one thousand feet of any school or child care facility. But unless I’m wrong… ” I pointed down the street. “…that’s a nursery school on the corner.”
“It’s just some slut had more brats than she can handle!”
“Hmm. I see two toddlers on a swing set, three on the slide, and the woman watching them doesn’t look like their baby mama. Even if it’s an unlicensed day care facility, the law would still apply.”
Norma looked like her eyes were about to explode. “The police are on their way!”
The oldster went back into his house but left the door open, which I found interesting since Arizonans are usually careful to block the heat out and keep the air conditioning in. Seconds later he returned with a Mossberg shotgun almost as big as he was. After delivering a fuck-you look at Wycoff, he flourished the shotgun in the same manner I’d flourished my Vindicator. A warning, not yet a promise, but considering it, considering it…
My work here finished, I drove away as the music of sirens filled the air.
HERE'S WHAT NetGallery HAS TO SAY IN THEIR FIVE-STAR REVIEW ABOUT THE REST OF "DESERT VENGEANCE..."
The first chapter of Desert Vengeance is a half page long without a wasted word. It grabs you and twists you with a hold so tight that you know you will keep reading. This book is the latest in a series of mysteries by Betty Webb about PI Lena Jones. It could easily be a successful standalone. Nuances of relationships are effortlessly grasped even without the backstory. Lena’s professional status is clear. In the process of the mystery unfolding, the reader learns what happened to Lena as she made her way through a series of foster homes and emerged with emotional scars, but a strong character.
The subject matter, child molestation, is a very difficult one, but is handled in such a way that the reader understands the trauma the children went through without an account of the details of the abuse. The mystery centers around two murders and there are multiple suspects with strong motives. Lena finds through expert interviewing skills that not everyone is telling the truth. Some people have things to hide, even if it is not involvement in the murder. Others don’t really want the murderer caught.
The setting is a very hot Scottsdale, Arizona, with some reprieve in Black Canyon Creek. Both are accurately depicted without lengthy passages, leaving the reader sweaty, dusty, and thirsty. The other characters are interesting and developed appropriately according to their contribution to the plot.
I highly recommend this book either as a standalone or as part of the series. I am looking forward to reading more books by Betty Webb who has eight more books in her Lena Jones Mystery Series and three books in a humorous series about a California zoo-keeping sleuth. A former journalist, Webb deals with controversial topics in many of her books, but she approaches these difficult subjects through the lens of a consummate storyteller.
"The world looks so hopeful at sunrise. The air is clean, birds sing, frogs hush their complaints, and coyotes stop their slaughter of innocent bunnies and head home to bed. It’s all a lie, of course. The world is as vicious in daylight as it is at night."
Ferociously ambitious U.S. Senatorial candidate Juliana Thorsson has been keeping a secret.
The horrific slaughter of a prominent doctor, his wife, and their ten-year-old son inside their Scottsdale home brings Thorsson to Private Investigator Lena Jones. The slain family’s 14-year old daughter, Alison, and her boyfriend, Kyle, have confessed to the murders. Thorsson wants to hire Lena to discover if Alison is telling the truth, but before accepting the job, Lena demands to know why a rising political star wants to involve herself with the fate of a girl she’s never met. Desperate for Lena’s help, Thorsson reveals her explosive secret – that Alison is the candidate’s biological daughter, a fact she’s kept hidden for years. But that’s not all. Thorsson then confides something even more unusual than a mere hidden pregnancy, something that could ruin her political plans forever.
Suspecting that Alison’s parents had secrets of their own that could have led to the murders, Lena finally accepts Thorsson's assignment. But interviewing those who knew the family well soon puts Lena -- now a strong defender of the two teens -- in danger of her life.
DESERT RAGE -- CHAPTER ONE
The first thing Ali saw when she came through the door was the blood. The next thing she saw were the bodies.
“Why’d you kill my dog?” she asked Kyle.
Kyle waited before he answered, almost like he didn’t know what Ali was talking about, but then he shrugged. “Because she bit me?” He rubbed his leg like it still hurt.
Ali knelt down and placed her hand on Misty’s side. The dog’s body still felt warm. When she stroked the Yorkie’s head, it whined. She looked up at Kyle. “She’s not dead.”
“That’s all right, then. I didn’t know you cared about the dog.”
“She’s the only thing I do care for.” At the expression on Kyle’s face, she added, “Besides you, of course. So what are we going to do now? We can’t leave her like this.”
He grabbed the baseball bat leaning against the sofa. “Want me to...?”
“Hey, girl, don’t get all jumped up about this. I only did what you wanted, didn’t I?”
“Not the Misty part. We have to take her to the vet.”
“My mom’s car. The keys are in her purse. When we were talking about running off to California together, you said you knew how to drive.” When Ali stroked the dog again, it opened its eyes and licked her hand. Ali lowered her face to the blood-matted fur, held it there for a minute. “We’ll drop her off at the vet on the way.”
“Better get on the road, then.”
“Wait a minute.” Ali stood up, walked over to the thermostat, and turned it down as far as it would go. “I read in a mystery once where the killer did this so it would take longer for the bodies to, you know, decompose, give him time to get away.”
“Better than those stupid comics you read.”
“They’re graphic novels!”
“Like there’s a difference.” As cold air blasted out of the family room vents, Ali returned to Misty and picked her up. She cuddled the dog until she realized that Misty’s blood was staining her new tee shirt, the one with the picture of Rihanna on it. She made a sound of disgust.
“Hey, you okay?” Kyle asked.
“I’m always okay. Go up to my room and get me another top. I can’t show up at the vet’s with blood all over me.”
“Well, duh, Ali. You’ll be carrying in a bleeding dog, won’t you? Nobody’s going to think anything about your stupid shirt. Say you found her all messed up like that and brought her straight in, that, uh, your parents were out and you didn’t want to wait.”
Ali made a face. “Driving over there with blood on me. Ugh.”
With that, the two fourteen-year-olds left the house, leaving behind the cooling bodies of Ali’s mother, father, and ten-year-old brother.