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Desert Lost: Lena Jones Mystery    by Betty Webb order for
Desert Lost
by Betty Webb
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2009 (2009)
* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

With her mystery Desert Wives, Betty Webb introduced readers to Lena Jones, PI. Lena became involved in the law-breaking ways of polygamy - plural wives, welfare fraud, abuse, and myriad other methods the leaders of a fundamentalist group devised to live off others' tax dollars. Most disturbing, though, was their inhumane treatment of their women and children. It has been said that if this first novel 'were written as a piece of investigative journalism, Webb would have been up for a Pulitzer!' Factual details that follow the story are eye-popping.

In Desert Lost, Webb again explores the customs of these polygamists - such as turning out their young men at eighteen because there are no women for them. If one man can have ten or twelve wives, ten or twelve young men will never have a chance to marry and have their own stable of wives. Turned out in an unfamiliar city with scant education, these young men turn to drugs and prostitution. Webb follows one such lost boy. While what she writes is fiction, she garners facts to keep her novels as close to the truth as it is possible to get.

Lena Jones stumbles on a dead sister-wife and plunges headlong into discovering how and why this woman died. Since it's obviously a murder, she pokes and prods and surveils her way into solving the death but not before unveiling more of the cult's unlawful and cruel treatment of their own followers.

I think we are all aware of this group's misconduct. The big news splash when they were charged with child abuse was not that long ago. But news fades from our minds when it doesn't concern us. Not to be mistaken for Mormons, these fundamentalists are a splinter group whose leaders - the prophet and his cronies - refuse to give up the old ways and interpret the bible to suit their own bid for power and control.

Desert Lost is a well-written mystery that will engage readers' love of intrigue and suspense. However, while reading, always in the back of the mind is the abuse rained upon the women and children who are afraid for their very lives to leave their compounds.

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