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)."
An old wrangler holds the key to hundreds of deaths in secretive Walapai Flats, Arizona, but the only person he’ll confide in is the ghost of John Wayne.
When P.I. Lena Jones’s Pima Indian partner Jimmy Sisiwan is arrested in the remote northern Arizona town of Walapai Flats, Lena closes the Desert Investigations office and rushes to his aid. What she finds is a town up in arms over the new uranium mine located only ten miles from the magnificent Grand Canyon. Jimmy’s sister-in-law, head of Victims of Uranium Mining, has already been murdered, but the opposing side has taken hits, too. Ike Donohue, the mine’s public relations flak, is found shot to death, casting suspicion on Jimmy and his entire family. During Lena’s investigation, she finds not only a community decimated by unsafe mining practices, but a connection to actor John Wayne and the mysterious deaths that occurred during the 1954 filming of “The Conqueror.” Gabe Boone, a wrangler on that doomed film, is one of the only crew members still alive, and it’s up to Lena to penetrate Gabe’s defenses to find out the tragic secret no one in Walapai Flats wants to talk about. By delving into the history of its surrounding desert, Lena learns that old sins never die; in fact, they’re still taking lives. In "Desert Wind," Betty Webb brilliantly evokes the memories of the Cold War, and brings its deadly legacy home to modern-day Arizona.
As with “Desert Wives: Polygamy Can Be Murder,” this seventh book in the Lena Jones series exposes real life crimes, and the reason why local and federal officials want those crimes to remain under wraps.
EXCERPT from DESERT WIND:
August 1954: Snow Canyon, Utah
From his vantage point with the horses on a small hillock, Gabe Boone watched the cameras track the actor across the simmering desert floor towards the skin-draped yurt. Even with the heavy makeup around the man's eyes, no one would have mistaken him for Genghis Khan. His height, his build, his long-legged stride -- they could only have belonged to one man: John Wayne.
"He sure is something to see, ain't he?" drawled Curly, another wrangler on the film set.
They'd been standing there holding the horses' reins going on two hours now. Curly was twice Gabe's age, but because of a life spent mainly on ranches and in too many bars, he looked sixty. His face has been burned saddle-brown by the sun and wind, his tobacco-stained teeth almost the same color.
Gabe, only twenty-two and a non-drinker, non-chewer, flashed pearly whites. "He is that. But he don't look like no Mongol."
"Seen a lot of Mongols, whatever those be?"
Gabe walked over to a big bay, straightened its saddle, and tried to look knowing. "Cowboys like us is what they are, from somewhere out in China."
"Commies." Curly spit a disdainful wad of tobacco on the ground, barely missing his own boot.
Gabe sighed. There Curly went again, seeing a Commie behind every rock and cactus. You'd think he was the one who'd left Korea minus a finger. Gabe stared down at the stump where his left forefinger had been. Curly could rave on, but as for himself, after what he'd been through over there, he didn't want to think about war, politics, or what-have-you, didn't want to think about anything except settling down and raising a family.
Curly wasn't through griping. "Damned Commies, them Chinese, them Ruskies and all their stinking friends, think they can come over here and take away our horses and saddles and make us call 'em Comrade. Well, we got a big ol' answer for them, don't we?"
Gabe didn't want to think about that, either. The A-bomb testing, the McCarthy hearings going on in Washington... He especially didn't want to think about all those sick Paiute Indian film extras. Coughs. Blisters. Maybe that was because they ate the rabbits and ground squirrels that had been eating the sick grass. Used to hunt the antelope, the Indians did, brought down deer and elk. But lately, the larger animals had been dying off, covered with sores all over their bodies. Sometimes their coats and muzzles looked so scary the Paiutes wouldn't touch them, made do with whatever they could forage. Desert plants, pine nuts, spindly stuff that would hardly keep a chicken alive.
This canyon country was a hard country. Men and horses had to be hard to endure it.
Gabe turned his eyes to the film set, where Wayne was swaggering toward Susan Hayward, his hands on the huge knife at his waist. The cameras, one of them mounted on a small metal track, moved back as he approached her.
The scalding wind blowing down the canyon towards Gabe and Curly, lifted the actor's words to them. "What Temujin wants, he takes, Bortai!"
The beautiful redhead clutched her skimpy costume close to her breasts. Defiance lit her eyes. "No dog of a Mongol..."
She began to cough.