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A Whole New Life    by Betsy Thornton order for
Whole New Life
by Betsy Thornton
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

On a late August evening in the mountains near Dudley, Arizona, Jenny Williams dies when she drives off the road and into the arroyo below. This seems to be an accident, but an autopsy reveals something peculiar: Jenny was apparently poisoned.

The Cochise County sheriff's department quickly focuses on the husband, Jackson Williams, as the person presumed to have been responsible for the poisoning. After all, the incriminating evidence was found in Jackson's home, and virtually every piece of evidence points directly at the husband.

Now in jail and awaiting probable trial for murder, Jackson is caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare, and he has few options for hope. Fortunately for Jackson, though, he has at least one good friend in his neighbor Ruth Norton. She rallies to his defense and enlists the aid of one of the best lawyers in Cochise County, Stuart Ross. Moreover, Jackson's daughter Mara has suddenly arrived from the East coast, and she is determined to help the father whom she hasn't seen since she was a very small child.

Meanwhile, Dudley has plenty of other oddball characters who are getting the attention of the sheriff's department because of their association with the Williams or for other unrelated matters: Ken Dooley, the town's radical libertarian, was acquainted with Jenny, so he may know something about what happened; Sid Hamblin, one of Jackson's colleagues at the local college, seems to know something about Jackson and Jenny that he is not willing to share with the authorities; Anita Selby, the local real estate agent, has been openly hostile to Jackson, but had been quite friendly with Jenny; Tyler Norton, Ruth's son, claims to have seen someone wandering around the Williams's property on the day of Jenny's death; and - in matters apparently not linked to Jackson's case - a local eccentric known to everyone only as The Magician has intentionally committed a crime so that he could temporarily leave his not so cozy home in one of the nearby hillside caves and stay instead in the county jail.

While the sheriff's department is keeping busy, Stuart Ross has called on a private investigator for help in Jackson's case: George Maynard, a former cop and a recovering alcoholic, begins digging into the case and following leads that seem to have been of little or no interest to law enforcement officials. Among other things, he is able to track down the mystery-man seen by young Tyler Norton, but what he discovers only further complicates the case.

Then things really get interesting with more twists and turns than a dirt road in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona. People disappear without a trace, the most surprising people are revealed to have been involved in distributing drugs, and murder is starting to become a recurring problem.

A Whole New Life has an appealing plot, some dark surprises, and plenty of red herrings to keep readers on their toes. Fast-paced and filled to overflowing with both compelling and quirky characterizations, Betsy Thornton's novel is skillfully crafted and hugely entertaining. So, grab yourself a copy of this stand-out mystery and enjoy yourself!

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