"In Jones's electrifying 10th...Scottsdale, Arizona, PI Lena is approached by Harold Slow Horse, one of Arizona's leading artists...[and] gets on a trail that leads her at long last to answers about her troubled past..." Publishers Weekly
At the age of four, Scottsdale private eye Lena Jones was shot in the head and left to die on a Phoenix street. After her rescue, she spent years in the abusive foster care system, never knowing who her parents were and why they didn't claim her. When Desert Redemption begins, she still doesn't know her real name.
Lena's rough childhoodand the suspicion that her parents may have been members of a cultkeeps her hackles raised. So when Chelsea, the ex-wife of Harold Slow Horse, a close friend, joins a "new thought" organization called Kanati, Lena begins to investigate. She soon learns that two communespolar opposites of each otherhave sprung up nearby in the Arizona desert. The participants at EarthWay follow a rigorous dietary regime that could threaten the health of its back-to-the-land inhabitants, while the more pleasure-loving folk at Kanati are dining on sumptuous French cuisine.
On an early morning horseback ride across the Pima Indian Reservation, Lena finds an emaciated woman's body in the desert. "Reservation Woman" lies in a spot close to EarthWay, clad in a dress similar to the ones worn by its women. But there is something about her face that reminds Lena of the Kanatians.
While investigating, Lena's memory is jolted back to that horrible night when her father and younger brother were among those murdered by a cult leader named Abraham, who then vanished. Lena begins to wonder if either EarthWay or Kanati could be linked to that night, and to her own near-death. Could leaders of one or both shed light on what had happened to Lena's mother, who vanished at the same time as Abraham?
All these mysteries are resolved in Desert Redemption, the tenth and final Lena Jones case, which can also be enjoyed on its own.
About the Author
As a journalist, Betty Webb interviewed U.S. presidents, astronauts, and Nobel Prize winners, as well as the homeless, dying, and polygamy runaways. The dark Lena Jones mysteries are based on stories she covered as a reporter. Betty's humorous Gunn Zoo series debuted with the critically acclaimed The Anteater of Death, followed by The Koala of Death. A book reviewer at Mystery Scene Magazine, Betty is a member of National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and the National Organization of Zoo Keepers.
Read an Excerpt
My screams echoed those in my nightmare until Jimmy rolled over in bed and put his arms around me.
"Shhhh. It's just a dream, Lena. Just a dream."
"Not a dream," I rasped, my throat raw from screaming. "A memory."
"You need to start seeing someone again. How about that anger management therapist you used to go to?" "She moved to Tucson. Besides, I'm not angry anymore."
"And I'm the Queen of Sheba."
"That line wasn't funny the first time I heard it."
As Jimmy continued to hold me, caressing the old bullet scar on my forehead, I caught my breath. Finally able to speak normally, I said, "The cats are traumatized. Again."
"They'll get over it."
Snowball and Mama Snowball were huddled together in the far corner of the Airstream's bedroom, their fear-fluffed coats making them look twice their size. At least we had delivered the last of the litter to their adoptive homes yesterday, so only two white flame-point Siamese remained behind to listen to my nightmares.
"I'm sorry, cats. It won't happen again."
But I knew it would.
* * *
It was a brisk October morning, a mere seventy-two degrees — freezing temps for this part of Arizona — as we headed from the trailer to the corral to feed the horses. Big Boy, Jimmy's pinto gelding, trotted over immediately, while Adila, my Appaloosa mare looked as spooked as the cats. Living out here on the wild expanse of the Salt River Pima/Maricopa Indian Reservation for two months should have calmed her some, but no, she showed me the whites of her eyes and switched her tail as she approached in a sidling walk. When she got close enough to touch, she flattened her ears and bared her teeth.
"You phony," I said.
She shook her head, making her snowy mane ripple.
"Nothing but a drama queen."
She vented a threatening squeal and shook her head again.
"You're a liar, too, but I brought you a treat anyway."
When I produced the carrot pieces hidden behind me, her ears, curved like two halves of a crescent moon, flicked forward. Smiling, I thrust my flat palm through the slats of the fence so she wouldn't be tempted to bite my fingers.
"Careful," I warned.
Black velvet lips brushed against my palm, picking up carrot pieces with the delicacy of a neurosurgeon. After crunching them down she flattened her ears again and backed away from the fence. Then with a squeal, she wheeled, kicked up her heels, and thundered around the corral, completing three circuits. As I watched my misbehaving horse, I admired her white coat with its dappling of quarter-sized black spots. My beauty. My equal. My spirit animal.
"That horse is going to kill you," Jimmy said, as he stroked Big Boy's gentle muzzle.
"Adila? It's all theater with her. She wouldn't purposely harm a hair on my head."
"Maybe not purposely, but with horses like her, accidents happen."
"I can handle every accident she throws my way."
Jimmy muttered something I couldn't hear, then smiled. A full-blooded Pima, his russet skin glistened in the rising sun, making the curved tribal tattoo on his temple look darker in contrast. "You want to ride first or work?"
"Work," in this case, meant finishing construction on the three-bedroom house he had begun in the spring, months before I'd semi-moved from my apartment in Old Town Scottsdale to join him on the Rez. The early-morning beauty out here was still new to me. Around us orange and violet mesas thrust upwards into the clear blue sky. A bright red cardinal sang from a nearby patch of prickly pear cactus, while a family of top-knotted Gambel's quail scratched for breakfast under a yellow-bloomed creosote bush.
"Let's ride first," I said.
"That's got my vote."
We were just saddling up when we spotted Harold Slow Horse's Ford Bronco coming up the dirt road, leaving a rooster tail of dust behind him.
"Here comes trouble," Jimmy said.
"What makes you say that?"
"Something tells me Chelsea's taken off again."
"Took off? I thought she divorced him last August, split with some guy from Texas."
"She changed her mind and came back."
"And Harold let her?"
"You know Harold."
Indeed I did. Harold Slow Horse, a fierce-looking Pima-Kiowa, was even more forgiving than Jimmy, which made him a patsy for users of the female persuasion. In Chelsea's case, "user" also meant the oxycodone addiction that had led her into treatment at the clinic next door to the convenience store Harold had once managed. She had come in one day for a Coke, the legal kind, and they'd begun chatting. Despite Chelsea's white bread upbringing, she had a yen for all things Indian, so one thing led to another, and as soon as the clinic declared her clean, she moved onto the Rez with him. That had been three years, one divorce, and two après-divorce kiss-and-make-ups ago. Chelsea Cooper-Slow Horse was nothing if not changeable.
"Ya ta hey," Harold called, jumping down from his truck, followed by Doofus, his yellow Lab. Thanks to so many years of living indoors, Harold's round face wasn't as deeply grooved as most Indians in their fifties. His eyes were those of a much younger man.
"Ya ta hey, yourself," Jimmy said. "So what's up, cousin?"
Jimmy was related to just about everyone on the Rez in one way or another. When we had first gotten together I'd tried to track his actual family tree, but soon gave up. It was too complicated, what with members of various tribes moving here and there, intermarrying and having multi-tribal children. Harold himself was the product of a Kiowa father who'd met his Pima mother at a local pow-wow thirty-eight years earlier. As for Chelsea, she claimed a Cherokee great-great grandmother, not that she looked it with her porcelain skin, streaked blond hair, and blue eyes. Harold bore her claim with patience.
"Got a minute?" Harold said, as Doofus bounded back and forth from the corral to us, yipping excitedly. Doofus couldn't understand why the horses didn't like him as much as he liked them.
"Maybe I should go on ahead," I said to Jimmy, sensing some man-to-man time was in the offing. "Let you two talk, then you can catch up with me. It won't kill Big Boy to travel faster than a walk for once."
Harold shook his head. "This concerns you, too, Lena, since you're the licensed PI."
Apprehensive, I led Adila back into the corral. Sensing my mood, her ears flattened again. When I walked away she gave me a disgusted snort.
At Jimmy's suggestion, we ordered Doofus back into the truck, and went into the Airstream, where Harold nodded his approval at Jimmy's carpentry — the coffee table constructed from saguaro cactus skeletons and studded with turquoise; the wooden cabinets covered with paintings of Pima gods, Earth Doctor, Elder Brother, and the entire traditional panoply. You'd think an artist lived here, not an IT expert.
After we made ourselves comfortable on the sofa, Jimmy served up steaming mugs of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, his favorite.
"So, okay, what's the problem?" I asked Harold, after taking a sip. Super strong, unsweetened, just how I liked it.
Harold pretended to study the Navajo rug draped across the back of the sofa. He sat so still that Snowball jumped into his lap, followed immediately by Ma Snowball. As he stroked the cats, I saw the skinned knuckles on his right hand. Maybe he was back to sculpting again. Or not.
"C'mon, Harold, tell me. I'm not a mind-reader."
He looked up at me and sighed. "It's Chelsea."
When Jimmy snorted he sounded so much like my horse that in other circumstances I would have laughed, but, aware of what might have happened between Harold and his ex-wife, I didn't. Their relationship had been going from bad to awful of late. "Please don't tell me she's left you again and you want me to talk her into coming back." Waving at his injured hand, I added, "And just to clear the air, you haven't hurt her, have you?"
His mouth dropped in shock. "Hurt Chelsea? You've got to be kidding!"
"Pretend I don't know you and answer the question."
Harold and Chelsea had married too soon after meeting, and they had divorced even sooner when she left him for a Texas boot-maker. Then she came back, but a few months later left again, thus establishing an oft-repeated pattern. Her erratic behavior was fueled by her drug dependency, and Harold had been trying to get her back into rehab ever since I'd known him. But that didn't mean helping her had come without an emotional cost, and given the stress she had put him through lately....
"Rest easy, Lena, I would never hurt that woman. It's ... it's something else."
"Is she using?"
He scratched Snowball behind his ears, and repeated the process with Ma Snowball. Purrs abounded. "A couple of months ago I caught her with a stash of OxyContin she'd been hiding. I flushed it and told her she had to get clean or move out, so she hunted around some and found this rehab place down by Ironwood Canyon, and checked herself in a month ago."
"Well, that's good news, anyway." Jimmy, ever the optimist, looked hopeful.
I didn't, sensing there was more to Harold's story.
"That place, it's called the Kanati Spiritual Center. After three weeks went by and I hadn't heard anything from her, no texts, no emails, no new Facebook posts, I started calling. All I ever got was voice mail. And before you ask, I tried Kanati's 800-number, too, and after a few transfers, finally got to talk to some woman with a French accent who cited 'patient confidentiality,' and wouldn't tell me zip. A couple of hours after that, I did get a phone call from Chelsea, but it was weird, so yesterday I drove down there to see what was going on. That's when I really got worried. The place is operating out of that abandoned movie set used for Wagon Trails West. You ever see it?"
As a movie, Wagon Trails West had been fun; as a historical artifact, it was ridiculous, with olive-skinned Arabs and Italians pretending to be Indians, their costumes ranging all the way from Apache to Zuni. Some of them could barely stay on their horses.
"Now it's surrounded by a stockade fence and there's some mean-looking dude sitting at a guard shack in front," Harold continued. "He wouldn't let me in, wouldn't tell me anything, not even if Chelsea was still there. When I raised a fuss he called the office, and a few minutes later, the French woman I'd talked to on the eight hundred number came out and told me there was nothing to worry about, that everything was fine. But she wouldn't let me in the place or send Chelsea out to talk to me, saying that as Chelsea's ex-husband, I had no say in whatever type of treatment she may or may not be undergoing."
Knowing what the flighty Chelsea was like, I wasn't worried yet. "You say she 'hunted around' for a detox place. Why didn't she ask her father for a referral? Being a physician, he would know the best clinics."
"Because he'd picked the detox center she'd been in when I met her, and she'd hated it."
"Kanati. That's a Cherokee word, isn't it?" "Yeah, their name for God. Earth Doctor, as we Pimas call him. Chelsea's still convinced she has Cherokee blood a few generations back, and if that's what makes her happy, I'm not going to burst her bubble. That's why she chose this Kanati place, because of the name and the fact that they have a 'Native American' ..." his hands made quotes in the air, "... detox program. But nobody I saw there — the guy at the guard shack, the French gal I talked to, and a couple of people clearing brush away from the fence — looked Cherokee. They looked more like you."
Harold's reference to my appearance — pale skin, blond hair, green eyes — meant he had doubts about the rehab center's Native American bona fides.
"Maybe whoever runs the place thought 'Kanati' just sounded pretty," I offered.
"Maybe. But the more I think about it, I'm afraid she may have gotten herself mixed up with some kind of cult."
At the word "cult," I raised my hands. "Whoa, there, pardner. You don't know that. Settle down and tell us more about Chelsea's phone call, the one you described as weird."
Harold looked uncomfortable. "She told me that part of Kanati's program was to help their guests 'gain independence from codependents.' Is that all I am to her now? A codependent?"
To answer his question truthfully would be to insult him because Harold, regardless of what he believed, exhibited many traits of codependency. He not only acted as Chelsea's amateur therapist, but he took care of her to the detriment of taking care of himself. Witness his frowsy hair, his old clothes which had degenerated way beyond "retro," his inability to hold any kind of conversation without referring to her, and his constant fear of losing her. Which — Chelsea being Chelsea — he was bound to do.
"Let's just say you're overly invested in her welfare," I replied.
"But I love her!"
Said every codependent ever. Deciding to ease away from the touchy codependency issue, I said, "Some rehab programs think a temporary separation from a partner is a good idea, and from what I've seen with some of our clients, it can work. Then again, you know what Chelsea's like better than anyone. This place she's found might just be an excuse to try something new and exciting. Remember the last time she left you? She rented an apartment over in Phoenix with Joy Tolinski, that friend of hers from ASU. They were planning on setting up some kind export business in Thailand. So who knows? Maybe she's left this rehab place or cult or whatever it is and has already moved in with Joy. She could have asked the Kanati folks to provide cover for her."
"That's the first thing I thought of, too, so I called Joy, but she told me she hadn't seen Chelsea in almost a year, and that the whole Thai thing had been a bust from the get-go. She said Chelsea couldn't stay focused long enough to be of any help."
"Did you get in touch with her father?"
Dr. Orville Cooper, a Paradise Valley widower who had raised Chelsea with the aid of live-in nannies and maids, was not known for his geniality toward his daughter's mostly temporary partners. Harold was the only one he had even been halfway civil to, and that was because Cooper was an art collector and a couple of Harold's bronzes were part of his collection. He'd demanded a "friend" discount, and received it.
"Her dad hasn't heard from her, either. They don't get along, you know."
Chelsea and her father, both mule-headed people, were always at odds, if not over her choice of lovers, then her choice of drugs. But it would take a psychiatrist's couch to solve those problems, not a PI. "This French woman you talked to at Kanati. Do you remember her name?"
Instead of answering, Harold dug in his pocket and pulled out a business card. Printed on expensive cream-colored stock, it stated in burnished gold letters, KANATI SPIRITUAL CENTER. Underneath was an illustration of a blissed-out cartoon Indian in the lotus position. Next to the Indian was the name Gabrielle Halberd, Facilitator.
"You realize this says nothing about rehab," I pointed out.
"Ms. Halberd told me they don't use that word."
I reached down and scratched Ma Snowball's ears; she hadn't cared for the card search and had deserted Harold's lap for mine. "A rehab center that doesn't use the word rehab. That's odd, don't you think?"
"She gave me some blather about Kanati's spiritual experience 'elevating the soul,' making traditional rehab unnecessary." Harold closed his eyes, and in a sing-song voice, mimicked the Halberd woman's French accent. "Reehab is zee false trail, trod only by zee unbelievair."
Jimmy grunted. "An old Cherokee saying, not."
"Did this woman mention any kind of medical staff?" I asked.
Alarm bells were ringing now. It was possible Harold wasn't overreacting. "Arizona law doesn't allow rehab centers to operate without certified medical staff on the premises."
Harold's expression was rueful. "Not being uneducated on the subject of addiction and rehab, I brought that up, but Ms. Frenchie said theirs was a 'spiritual program,' not a medical one."
When Jimmy frowns, the tattoo on his temple appears to contract into two thin lines instead of three. "You thinking what I'm thinking, Lena?"
"Probably." In calling Kanati a cult, Harold might not be as far off base as I'd first suspected.
For decades, Arizona had been home to numerous ersatz-American Indian groups which promised — for a hefty price — spiritual, physical, and financial growth. Few were connected to recognized Native American beliefs, and even fewer offered medical advice other than the ritual burning of sage bundles. For the most part these groups were harmless, and in some instances even beneficial in that they offered a way out of the uptightness which had sometimes caused the participant's problems to begin with.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Desert Redemption"
Copyright © 2019 Betty Webb.
Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cults and communes, terrifying memories, and learning to love and trust all take top billing in Betty Webb’s Desert Redemption. I have read several other mysteries in this series, and this one is probably the best. The plot is intricate with difficult to determine motivations and victims found in various locations, but with similar causes of death. As P.I. Lena Jones has reasons to take the deaths personally, she gives more than one hundred percent of effort to solving the cases. This fast paced mystery has a lot of excitement, some danger, and an unusual method of escape. There are interesting subplots involving Lena’s goddaughter and Lena’s relationship with her patient Pima boyfriend. Most important, however, is a thread that keeps popping up about a woman named Helen. This part of the tale occurs 35 years prior to the current action. At first the significance of the thread and its relationship to the main plot is obscure, but it broadens and develops as Lena remembers more of her past. Desert Redemption is the tenth and last book in the Lena Jones Mystery Series. In it author Webb brings closure to Lena’s storyline—past, present, and future. Even though Lena’s story reaches a conclusion, the final novel just piques my interest to watch this talented P.I. at work on previous cases. The characters are interesting. I particularly enjoyed the relationship Lena has with Sylvie Perrins, her “frenemy” from the Scottsdale Police. They engage in humorous and biting repartee, but obviously have respect for each other. The Arizona desert backdrop is almost a minor character and one that makes the story more interesting. This is a book you will want to search out for its many good features, but especially to watch Lena solve possibly the most intricate puzzle of her career. I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
“Desert Redemption” by Betty Webb is the tenth and final installment in the “Lena Jones Mystery” series. Regular readers will anxiously read for the wrap up of several backstories. New readers should not be discouraged; “Desert Redemption” can be enjoyed on its own, and Webb has included all the background information necessary to follow along with the exploits of Lena and Jimmy. Lena Jones and Jimmy Sisiwan are living in an Airstream on the wild expanse of the Salt River Pima / Maricopa Indian Reservation with their horses and cats. Jimmy is building a house, a three-bedroom house, just for them. Lena and Jimmy are partners in Desert Investigations. Lena, like most former foster kids, does not handle the change well, even when the change is for the better, but she is devoted to Jimmy. “I still couldn’t figure out why it had taken me so long to love him, why I’d taken so many side roads with so many men. Thank God— who maybe did exist, after all— I’d finally come to my senses.” The story is character driven, and the action is presented in Lena’s first-person narrative. Readers learn about people she meets and places she goes through her conversations and observations. In alternating chapters, she recounts dreams, memories, and nightmares from thirty-five years earlier. It is now time for Lena to face her past, and she finally retrieves the cardboard banker’s box of childhood memories that had been temporarily shoved away. Every day, Desert Investigations fields phone calls from the artists, residents, parents, politicians, and general Scottsdale citizenry who have been “done wrong.” Harold Slow Horse, a friend, is worried that his ex-wife has become involved with a cult masquerading as a retreat or health resort for new back-to-the-landers who want to get off the grid. The daughter of a local political candidate has disappeared along with her boyfriend. The body of an unidentified young woman has been found on the Res. Multiple investigations weave in and out of the story, interlinking and deviating as Lena and Jimmy explore the social problems, criminal activities, and personal tragedies that bring clients to Desert Investigations. They diligently search, but find more questions than answers. Difficulties intensify; the body count escalates, and not every investigation has a successful conclusion. Through Webb’s words, the beauty and the geography of the area jump from every page. “Mother Nature’s wild citizens, wilder even than the local teens, greeted the day’s glory with joy and trepidation. Ground squirrels, jackrabbits, and deer mice scurried between various kinds of cacti, while a chorale of birds sang from mesquite and ironwood trees. In the lightening sky above, a bald eagle drifted along a thermal, deciding which scurrying creature to kill first.” In “Desert Redemption,” Webb brings a startling closure to Lena’s troubled past and things might just finally work out for Lena. I was given a review copy of “Desert Redemption” by Betty Webb and Poisoned Pen Press. The book has a nice shout-out to “Y Is for Yesterday” as Lena reads Sue Grafton’s final book, and laments that she must say farewell to Kinsey Millhone, as do we all. Alas, it is time for readers to say goodbye Lena Jones as well, ten wonderful books, and many, many wonderful stories.
I had not found Betty Webb before I received this, the 10th of the Lena Jones mysteries from Netgalley, the author Betty Webb and publisher Poisoned Pen Press. I have a LOT of catching up to do! With a setting in the Arizona high plains desert, Lena Jones is a fiercely independent woman with a soft heart and lots of experience dealing with the bad guys. This mystery is centered around a couple of 'back to earth' communes located near Scottsdale, one a possible 'fat farm' and the other more into fleecing bored wealthy folks in the name of ersatz-American Indian paths to achieving a state of Elevation. Add in a toasty Pima lover, a highly strung mare, a couple of cats and a new house going up - you have a woman with a future. Until you encounter several dumped bodies with starvation as the cause of death, a couple of runaway kids not yet 16 years old and a 35 year old haunting mystery surrounding the lost mass grave of many children and one adult, and you have an excellent way to entertain yourself for a spell. I am on the path of getting my little library to add Betty Webb to their have-to get-lists. And more than happy to recommend Desert Redemption to friends and family. I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley, Betty Webb, and Poisoned Pen Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.