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Desert Wives    by Betty Webb order for
Desert Wives
by Betty Webb
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

In Desert Wives, Betty Webb has written an expos9 of polygamy disguised as a mystery novel - and a good mystery novel it is. Webb has taken a strip of land, part in Arizona and part in Utah, and turned it into the polygamous compound of Purity. Esther and her daughter Rebecca manage to escape that lifestyle (Rebecca's father wants custody of his thirteen year-old daughter in order to trade her with the Prophet for two sixteen year-olds!) only to have Esther accused of murdering the Prophet Solomon.

PI Lena Jones enters the picture and poses as the sister wife of a man living in the compound. Her efforts to pinpoint the killer are exciting as well as dangerous. She wrestles the past at the same time - remembering that her mother shot her and left her for dead when she was four years old. That might upset anyone. The conditions at Purity are horrendous, the goal being that each man should have as many children as he can so that he will reach the highest chair in heaven with others to wait on him. Girls as young as twelve and thirteen are married to old men or their brothers, uncles, grandfathers, even fathers!

All of this takes place today, not in some distant past. The Church of the Latter Day Saints banned polygamy long ago, but the Fundamentalist branch of that church has interpreted the bible to enable its members to practice the old ways. Desert Wives is the second of Betty Webb's series about Lena Jones. I have not read Desert Noir, but shall get a copy so I don't miss any of her writing. Lena is a feisty ex-police officer who can look after herself very well. She has a keen sense of humor. Given the tenor of her life, she would need to see the lighter side now and then. Her partner Jimmy Sisiwan is a Puma Indian with forehead tribal markings and an awesome skill at the computer.

Don't skip the Author's Note at the end of the book. Once you've finished Desert Wives, you'll find yourself carrying its message with you.

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