Betty Webb is in the HBS Mystery Book Reader's Circle.
Mystery & Thrillers
Betty Webb - The Lena Jones mysteries
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HBS Author's Spotlight
Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (DESERT WIND, DESERT WIVES, DESERT NOIR, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (THE LLAMA OF DEATH, THE KOALA OF DEATH, etc.). Before beginning to write full time, Betty worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. She has taught creative writing at Phoenix College, master classes at Arizona State University, and has been a nationally-syndicated literary critic for more than 20 years. Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.
A Lena Jones Mystery
Author: Betty Webb
Barnes and Noble
An old wrangler holds the key to hundreds of deaths in secretive Walapai Flats, Arizona, but the only person he’ll confide in is the ghost of John Wayne.
When P.I. Lena Jones's Pima Indian partner Jimmy Sisiwan is arrested in the remote northern Arizona town of Walapai Flats, Lena closes the Desert Investigations office and rushes to his aid. What she finds is a town up in arms over a new uranium mine located only ten miles from the magnificent Grand Canyon. Jimmy's sister-in-law, founder of Victims of Uranium Mining, has been murdered, but the opposing side is taken hits, too. Ike Donohue, the mine's public relations flak, is found shot to death, casting suspicion on Jimmy and his entire family. During Lena's investigation, she finds not only a community decimated by dangerous mining practices, but a connection to actor John Wayne and the mysterious deaths resulting from the 1953 filming of “The Conqueror.” Gabe Boone, a wrangler on that doomed film, is still alive, but the only person the aged man will confide in is John Wayne's ghost. It's up to Lena to penetrate Gabe's defenses and find out the decades-old tragedy no one in Walapai Flats wants to talk about. By delving into the area's history, Lena learns that old sins never die; they're still taking lives.
As with “Desert Wives: Polygamy Can Be Murder,” this seventh book in the Lena Jones series exposes real life crimes, and the reason why high-ranking government officials want those crimes to remain under wraps.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY STARRED REVIEW : “Webb pulls no punches in exploring another human rights issue in her excellent seventh mystery starring Arizona PI Lena Jones (after 2009’s Desert Lost)."
From David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Protector and the Rambo (First Blood) series: "I've been a fan of Betty Webb's Desert mysteries from the start. With some series, the quality ebbs over time, but Webb's latest, Desert Wind, shows ever-increasing strength. Again Webb uses her expert journalistic skills to explore a shocking topic that private investigator Lena Jones uncovers with masterly resolve. My jaw dropped as I realized the scope and significance of the mystery. Add awesome descriptions of the Southwestern landscape along with powerful emotions, and you have a must-read."
From Roundup Magazine, Western Writers of America: “Betty Webb is a tremendous writer… Ms. Webb has not only entertained with rousing good mystery stories and terrific characters, but educated by taking on the homeless, the dying, and polygamy."
August 1954: Snow Canyon, Utah
From his vantage point with the horses on a small hillock, Gabe Boone watched the cameras track the actor across the simmering desert floor towards the skin-draped yurt. Even with the heavy makeup around the man's eyes, no one would have mistaken him for Genghis Khan. His height, his build, his long-legged stride -- they could only have belonged to one man: John Wayne.
"He sure is something to see, ain't he?" drawled Curly, another wrangler on the film set.
They'd been standing there holding the horses' reins going on two hours now. Curly was twice Gabe's age, but because of a life spent mainly on ranches and in too many bars, he looked sixty. His face has been burned saddle-brown by the sun and wind, his tobacco-stained teeth almost the same color.
Gabe, only twenty-two and a non-drinker, non-chewer, flashed pearly whites. "He is that. But he don't look like no Mongol."
"Seen a lot of Mongols, whatever those be?"
Gabe walked over to a big bay, straightened its saddle, and tried to look knowing. "Cowboys like us is what they are, from somewhere out in China."
"Commies." Curly spit a disdainful wad of tobacco on the ground, barely missing his own boot.
Gabe sighed. There Curly went again, seeing a Commie behind every rock and cactus. You'd think he was the one who'd left Korea minus a finger. Gabe stared down at the stump where his left forefinger had been. Curly could rave on, but as for himself, after what he'd been through over there, he didn't want to think about war, politics, or what-have-you, didn't want to think about anything except settling down and raising a family.
Curly wasn't through griping. "Damned Commies, them Chinese, them Ruskies and all their stinking friends, think they can come over here and take away our horses and saddles and make us call 'em Comrade. Well, we got a big ol' answer for them, don't we?"
Gabe didn't want to think about that, either. The A-bomb testing, the McCarthy hearings going on in Washington... He especially didn't want to think about all those sick Paiute Indian film extras. Coughs. Blisters. Maybe that was because they ate the rabbits and ground squirrels that had been eating the sick grass. Used to hunt the antelope, the Indians did, brought down deer and elk. But lately, the larger animals had been dying off, covered with sores all over their bodies. Sometimes their coats and muzzles looked so scary the Paiutes wouldn't touch them, made do with whatever they could forage. Desert plants, pine nuts, spindly stuff that would hardly keep a chicken alive.
This canyon country was a hard country. Men and horses had to be hard to endure it.
Gabe turned his eyes to the film set, where Wayne was swaggering toward Susan Hayward, his hands on the huge knife at his waist. The cameras, one of them mounted on a small metal track, moved back as he approached her.
The scalding wind blowing down the canyon towards Gabe and Curly, lifted the actor's words to them. "What Temujin wants, he takes, Bortai!"
The beautiful redhead clutched her skimpy costume close to her breasts. Defiance lit her eyes. "No dog of a Mongol..."
She began to cough.
The Llama of Death
A Gunn Zoo Mystery
Author: Betty Webb
Barnes and Noble
Zookeeper Theodora “Teddy” Bentley takes Alejandro, the Gunn Zoo llama, to a Monterey Bay-area Renaissance Faire only to discover the still-warm body of the Reverend Victor Emerson, owner of the local wedding chapel, dressed in his royal robes as Henry the Eighth.
At first it appears as if Alejandro stomped the man to death, but a closer look reveals a crossbow dart in the man’s back. Teddy’s investigation proves the “reverend” isn’t really a reverend at all — he’s an escaped convict, and every marriage he’s performed in the past twenty years is null and void. Teddy’s mother Caro, a spoiled ex-beauty queen, becomes the chief suspect and is immediately jailed when she causes a riot in the courtroom. The ”reverend” had twice married Caro to wealthy men, and when both marriages failed, Caro received large financial settlements. Now she may have to give all that money back, certainly a good enough reason to commit murder. But Caro wasn’t the only person gunning for Victor. The child of the man Victor once murdered may have wanted to kill him, too, and at one point, even Teddy herself is handcuffed and jailed. Even worse, Teddy’s embezzling father flies in from exile in Costa Rica to help spring Caro from jail, thus putting his own freedom in jeopardy.
As Teddy continues her investigation, she finds herself up to her ears in girl gang members, squabbling boat liveaboarders, Renaissance Faire actors and stuntmen, and assorted animals.
Written with a humorous touch, “The Llama of Death” portrays Renaissance Faire life, and gives the reader a rare behind-the-scenes look at modern zoos.
“Alejandro, you spit in my face!”
He didn’t answer, just glared.
I tried reasoning with him, keeping my voice steady while I wiped the spittle away. “Look, I know you’re unhappy, but I’m unhappy, too. After all we’ve been through together there’s no reason for you to treat me like this.”
I ducked before he let fly again.
There’s nothing more irritating than an irritated llama, but there’s also nothing faster than a ducking zookeeper, so Alejandro’s second spitball missed the top of my head by at least an inch. “Losing your touch, big fella?” Straightening up, I saw that the expression of disgust on his face had morphed into one of pure sweetness. What...?
“I only weigh thirty-five pounds, so can I have a ride?” piped a tiny voice.
By the gate stood a tow-headed child who barely reached my waist. “Llama rides costeth two yellow tickets, my lady,” I said, my tongue cramping as it curled around the sixteenthcentury phraseology the organizers of the Gunn Landing Renaissance Faire insisted upon. “Plus you musteth have your kind lady mother’s permission.” Musteth? Was that even a word?
The little girl’s mother, who’d missed the llama spit-fest, smiled. “The jousting knights scared her, so I thought a llama ride would be more her speed. Llamas are calming, so I’ve heard.”
Alejandro’s ears, formerly laid back on his head, pricked forward. If I hadn’t known better, I’d swear he was smiling.
Llamas play favorites. Alejandro adored children, but he wasn’t crazy about adults, especially adults wearing outfits as ridiculous as mine. Billowing pink cotton skirt with too much lace and too many flounces, a plunging neckline that barely missed being X-rated, and a steelribbed bodice that would probably turn my face blue long before the day was over. And that net thingy the seamstress had called a “snood”? The only thing good about the contraption was that it kept my corkscrew red hair out of my eyes. Earlier this morning, after taking one look at me in my borrowed outfit, the seamstress – Maid Lucinda, she called herself -- said, “Guess that will have to do.” Then she’d turned her face away, but not before I heard her snicker.
So here I was, dressed up like some deranged sixteenth-century tart, working as a llama wrangler on the opening day of the Gunn Landing Renaissance Faire, when I should have been a mile away up the hill, tending to my usual rounds at the Gunn Zoo. I missed my friends: Lucy the giant anteater and her baby, Ricky; Wanchu the koala; even Marcus Aurelius, the mischievous lemur. Disgusted by my fate, I would have sworn a blue streak, but I couldn’t remember the proper curses. Zounds? Forsooth? Earlier, I’d heard one of the knights – Sir Roland, I believe, although it was hard to tell under all that armor – snarl something pithy about a spotted toad wed to a warted hog, but the rest of his insult escaped me.
Trying to look as delighted as Alejandro now did, I smiled at the innocent little face looking up at me. “The llama’s name is Sir Alejandro, my lady. If you’re nice to him, he’ll be nice to you. Uh, zounds.”
She reached up a tiny hand and patted him on the nose.
Alejandro closed his eyes and hummed with pleasure.
“He’s purring!” the child exclaimed.
“Most llamas make that sound when they’re anxious, but he’s different. He only makes it when he’s happy, my lady. It doth appear you have truly stolen Sir Alejandro’s heart. Forsooth and all that.”
She beamed from ear to ear.
“Up you go, my lady.” I heaved her onto Alejandro’s saddle.
As soon as she settled in, we set off around the barnyard. Alejandro continued to hum contentedly while I silently cursed my boss, Aster Edwina Gunn. Thanks to the old tyrant, I was up to my ankles in llama droppings, sweating like one of the Queen’s royal swine in the hot California sun. Not to mention ducking spit.
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