I hope Betty Webb has a lot of loyal readers, because Desert Vengeance, the ninth Lena Jones book—sure to play a pivotal role in the series—is gonna need it. It leans very, very heavily and unapologetically on the Ghosts of Books Past.
When we first catch up with Lena, the rough-and-tumble cowgirl private eye is cooling her heels in an Arizona parking lot, waiting for former foster parent and convicted child rapist Brian “Papa” Wycoff to step out of the prison van, after serving almost 30 years. Seems Wycoff raped nine-year-old Lena and several other children in his charge back in the day, and it was partially Lena’s testimony that helped send him away. Lena’s holding a ten-inch knife she calls “The Vindicator.” She’s thinking of killing him.
Fortunately, Lena’s better angels (almost) prevail, and she settles for merely stalking and harassing him. But within days, Wycoff is found murdered, and Lena is the prime suspect—until trailer camp owner Debbie Margules is charged with the killing, and turns to Lena for help.
The problem with Desert Vengeance isn’t just the morally queasy WTF? or the dubious about-face of Lena working so diligently to clear Debbie—Lena’s the first to question her own motives. No, the real problem is that Lena’s dogged investigation, full of heart-wrenching confrontations with Wycoff’s other, now-adult victims (and potential suspects), is overshadowed, narratively and emotionally, by her continuing efforts to deal with the slowly coalescing fragments of her own disturbing past, which include being shot in the face at the age of four.
Further narrative distractions tossed into the mix are the return of Dusty, an untrustworthy old flame, and what seems like an important development in the slowly dawning relationship between Lena and Jimmy Sisiwanquest, her hunky Pima partner and computer guy. Plus, as an added bonus for animal lovers, Lena buys a horse and acquires several kittens.
As a longtime fan, I’m torn. The author has set in motion several major changes in Lena’s life, but offers very little real closure. Will Lena ever find her real parents? Why was she shot? Will Jimmy and her hook up? And will she come to her senses and get rid of all those cats?
Not the best entry point, then, but for those of us who’ve traveled this far, a must-read. And a definite selling point for the next one.