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Desert Wives [Mass Market Paperback]

Betty Webb
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 1 2004 Lena Jones (Book 497)
'Til death do us part

Driven by moral outrage and deep personal demons, Arizona private inspector Lena Jones enters the brutal world of polygamy when she is hired by a frantic mother desperate to rescue her thirteen-year-old daughter from a polygamist sect on the Utah border. The girl is about to be married to the compound's sixty-eight-year-old leader, Solomon Royal, in a trade brokered by her father in exchange for two sixteen-year-olds.

The snatch goes off without a hitch, until Lena stumbles over the dead body of Brother Royal, and the girl's mother is charged with his murder. To find the real killer, Lena goes undercover as the new "wife" of an inside sympathizer and infiltrates the dark reality of Purity-where misogynistic men and frightened women share a deadly code of silence. As Lena gets closer to the monstrous secret at the compound's heart, the nightmare of her own childhood takes a strange turn as the disparate natures of good and evil converge in shocking new ways.

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"If Betty Webb had gone undercover and written Desert Wives as a piece of investigative journalism, she'd probably be up for a Pulitzer…” --New York Times
“Dark humor and thrilling action inform Webb’s second Lena Jones mystery, a searing exposé of the abuses of contemporary polygamy…. 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. 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 
“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 

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars a dark and chilling novel July 16 2004
By tregatt
Format:Mass Market Paperback
In this second installment in the Lena Jones mystery series, Lena is hired by her client, desperate mother Esther Corbett, to rescue her daughter, Rebecca, from the polygamist compound of Purity at the Utah-Arizona border. The rescue goes perfectly, but on the way out of Purity, Lena and Rebecca stumble over the dead body (short-gunned) of Solomon Royal, the leader of the compound. And because a few witnesses saw (Esther's almost senile father included) Esther and Solomon arguing over Rebecca's future (sixty-something Solomon was scheduled to marry thirteen year old Rebecca) hours before Solomon was found dead, Esther is the number one suspect in that homicide. Now it's up to Lena to prove her client's innocence, clear her name and prevent Rebecca from becoming a child bride. But in order to do this, savvy and independent Lena will have to go undercover as one of the compound member's new "wife." Can a thoroughly modern and strong willed Lena curb her ways in order to fit in, in spite of all the horrors and injustice she will witness? Whether she likes it or not, Lena will have to bite her tongue and pretend to be a submissive wife in order to learn all the dirty little secrets that Purity has to hide so that she can find the real killer and so reunite Esther with Rebecca...
"Desert Wives" makes for compelling reading not so much for the mystery at hand, but because of Betty Webb's stark and incisive look at the dark reality of the lives of the women in the Purity polygamist compound. Where Webb describes how insular these women's lives are, and the extent to which they are controlled, exploited and manipulated, "Desert Wives" makes for absorbing and chilling reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing detail in polygamous cult March 21 2003
Private Detective Lena Jones helps rescue a 13-year old girl from her non-custodial father and the man the father has promised his daughter in marriage to. But when the prospective groom, a 'prophet' in a polygamous Mormon sect, ends up killed, Jones's client is the only suspect. And Jones knows that that local sheriff won't go looking for any other suspects. He appears to sympathise with the polygamous rather than with the abused children. Jones knows what it is like to be a deserted child and goes underground in the cult compound, pretending to be one of the wives.
Author Betty Webb writes about the evils of polygamy and child abuse with authority while fully integrating these into an intriguing mystery. The prophet made plenty of enemies and had enough money to make even his best friend want to murder him. But who would he have trusted enough to lend his own shotgun to? Jones finds that the code of silence is in effect in the compound. The men barely talk to the women, and the women live in fear of more abuse, and in fear of one another as they scrabble for what little authority any woman can hold in a male dominated sect.
Serious mystery readers will quickly guess the killer, but will want to keep reading to see how Jones finally guesses the identity. Jones' terrible taste in men makes me glad she's not my detective, but it also makes for a more interesting read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gutsy mystery with a timely theme March 16 2003
In this timely second outing, gutsy PI Lena Jones, veteran of a hard-knocks childhood, can't bear to leave 13-year-old Rebecca to her fate - latest wife to the elderly Prophet of polygamous Purity, Utah, a hardscrabble compound in the middle of nowhere. Rescuing the girl (her father wants to trade her for two 16-year-olds), Lena all but stumbles over the body of the Prophet. Inevitably, Rebecca's mother is arrested for the murder.
All pretty straightforward so far, but Webb ("Desert Noir") takes a turn into the all-too-real surreal as Lena, determined to find the murderer, infiltrates the community by posing as a polygamist wife. In absorbing detail, Webb sets out the daily minutiae, the religious tenets (the more children, the better heaven), domestic routines, casual brutality, and the abject position of women, whose daily humiliation and powerlessness (including the offloading of widows onto other husbands) stacks up as nothing against the monstrous secret Lena finally uncovers.
Webb's writing is lively, well-paced and suspenseful. Dark humor accentuates the bleak setting. An afterward gives the background on Mormon polygamy and the state of law-enforcement disinterest. Powerful stuff.
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5.0 out of 5 stars compelling story Jan. 18 2003
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.
Harriet Klausner
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