Detectives and the environment appear to be a potent combination for a mystery novel. In fact, there’s a fast evolving mini-genre among eco-readers who like their crime investigations splattered with consciousness-raising motives and clues. Here, Ecology Campus’ Senior Editor, Deborah Harter Williams, reviews two new novels where murder and mayhem are set within a web of ecological issues that have a huge impact on the victims and their killers. – BT
Desert Wind by Betty Webb (Poisoned Pen Press)
Reviewed by Deborah Harter Williams
Nothing pleases me more than when I read a book and I’m still thinking about it two days later. Betty Webb’s Desert Wind is that kind of book. She also manages to get John Wayne into the first scene, so I was hooked from the get-go. The Duke has a recurring role in the story as a ghost, but his movie portrayal of Genghis Kahn provides a key plot point.
It all started when Webb watched a movie on TV called “The Conqueror” which was shot in Snow Canyon, Utah. The TV host mentioned the story about a mysterious illness and deaths incurred by the cast, the film crew and many of the Paiute Indians who had worked as extras. Many argued that the Hollywood lifestyle was to blame. But the deaths of the local ranchers and farmers went unexplained.
Webb’s story reveals surprising and disturbing facts about uranium mining and the ongoing effects of nuclear bomb testing in Arizona in the 1950s. If you think you know something about these topics, you may be challenged by what she presents. Indeed the argument goes on some sixty years later.
The facts are as compelling as the fiction – a twisty plot with distinctive characters. Lena Jones, (Webb’s serial detective) is a PI from Scottsdale who gets involved when her partner, Jimmy Sisiwan and his brother are arrested on the Indian reservation where they grew up. Other well-drawn characters in the investigation range from a blowsy trophy wife to a Goth New York reporter, their outer guises hiding history and mystery that Lena has to uncover if she wants to keep Jimmy and his family out of jail.
Webb introduced Lena in “Desert Noir” (2001) and has five other books leading up to “Desert Wind.” Previous outings have dealt with art, polygamy, land development and domestic violence. The author’s varied background seasons her writing – from work as a folk singer and commercial artist and go-go dancer to work picking cotton, raising chickens and working in a zoo. It gives her the ability to add the details that make her characters believable as she weaves her story back and forth from the mid-century to current times.
Blind Traveler’s Blues by Robert Bennett (Echelon Press)
Reviewed by Deborah Harter Williams
In a world beset with earthquakes, the recently blinded Douglas Abledan finds his way using the senses that he has left – smell and sound – heightened by his lack of sight. He also relies on technical enhancements like a sonic cane and a navigator, which uses GPS technology and calls out locations to him while beeping to identify obstacles.
On a plane headed for Chicago, Abledan meets a world-renowned agricultural pathologist, who may have the key to saving the world’s corn supply from a spreading plague. She sparks Abledan’s romantic interest, but after just one date, she is found dead. He realizes that he may have “witnessed” her murder in ways that no one else may have noticed.
When the police resist his assistance, he sets off on his own to investigate. More murders follow and he realizes that more is at stake. From archaeo-botany to eco-terrorism, there are multiple factors and competing forces converging on a meeting of botanists in Chicago. Feeding the planet is in the balance.
Bennett writes his who-dunnit from an intriguing perspective leavened with scholarship. The corn plague he describes is totally plausible and he relates it back to indigenous people in Mexico. In more modern times, he tells of the artifacts embedded in the base of the Chicago Tribune building. A good blend of fact, fiction and science.
Available for your Kindle.
In addition to her work at ecology.com, Williams is a marketing consultant and writer who co-founded the M is for Mystery Bookstore in San Mateo, Ca., blogs about mysteries at www.CluesSisters.com and acts as a “Mystery Scout” for Hollywood producers searching for novels that will make good TV drama.