Desert Redemption by Betty Webb is the tenth and final installment of the Lena Jones Mystery series.  Wanting to go out with a bang, Lena will have to encounter cults, deaths from malnutrition, and scenarios that force her to remember her past.

Harold Slow Horse, one of Arizona’s leading artists, asks Lena to investigate the Kanati Spiritual Center, where his flighty ex-wife, Chelsea, has taken up residence. It is a compound promoting a mixture of Native American symbolism and philosophy. Seeing that Chelsea is thriving on fresh air, sunshine, and the gourmet food Lena dismisses Harold’s claims.  That is, until she discovers the body of a woman starved to death, with a possible link to the spiritual center. She begins to think that there is “something more horrific than religious plagiarism going on at Kanati.”

A consequence from the investigation has Lena remembering the murder of her father and younger brother by a cult leader named Abraham, who then vanished along with her mother. All she could remember up to now is being left to die, at the age of four, after being shot in the head, and having to endure years in the abusive foster care system.

Always a welcome added feature of a Webb book is her vivid descriptions of the Arizona terrain. Readers are treated to the beauty of the area along with the resident ground squirrels, jackrabbits, deer, and a bald eagle, while a chorale of birds sang from mesquite and ironwood trees. A book quote, “I took a moment to enjoy the million-dollar view.  It was a clear day and I could see the high-rises of downtown Phoenix, the lower rises of Scottsdale, and the no-rise Pima Reservation.”

Besides a riveting mystery, readers are treated to a bit of history, locations, and geography that will draw them deeper into the story.  Although Lena has found her happy place, fans will yearn for Webb to continue Lena’s story in the future.

Elise Cooper: How do you feel about ending the series?

Betty Webb:  Very sad, since Lena is the daughter I never had.  I have two boys and wanted to write her as I was, a tomboy.  She came to me in a dream one night in which she told me the story of her life that included the entire last sentence of this book.   Because I am taking the loss of Lena so hard I have decided to make the protagonist of my next possible series her great, great grandmother who has the same temperament as Lena. 

EC: This quote is included in the book’s first page, “[No] matter what a waste one has made of one’s life, it is ever possible to find some path to redemption, however partial.”  Do you agree with it?

BW:  Most of it, but let’s rephrase it by saying just about everybody can find some kind of redemption except for politicians and those that give away their humanity like serial killers and Nazis.  These people without any compassion are truly lost.  I think redemption has more to do than just with forgiveness, but also includes starting a new life.  In the book someone does get redeemed, and the cult uses it a ritual to redeem the sins of their followers.

EC:  You also give a shout out to the American Indian?

BW:  I came out here in 1982 from New York City, and moved next door to the reservation that I talk about in my books all the time.  I can actually walk to the reservation.  Every day when I used to work at the newspaper I would have to drive through the reservation.  I shop at the grocery store that all the Pima Indians shop at.  I even made one of my characters, Lena’s boyfriend Jimmy, a Pima Indian.  I wanted to show that some of the nicest resorts were put up by the Pima Indians.  I saw buildings on the reservation go from shacks to pretty nice homes. When I first started writing my stories, none of the other writers talked about the Indian tribes of Scottsdale.  I learned about them while working for the newspaper where I wrote stories on how they fought to put up casinos even though the then Governor Fife Symington was against it.  They won because of the overwhelming public support.

EC:  What about the cult?

BW:  Evil takes all sorts of forms.  The guy who heads the Kanati Spiritual Center is an old, old enemy.  I wanted to show how people can have deep religious beliefs; yet, at the same time they were not absolved from their evil.  In this story, the cult was actually starving people, which actually happened with a cult.  This guy starved to the bare bones these women who he chose for his spiritual wives.  I read an article about it and decided to use it in this story.

EC:  Your next book projects?

BW:  I just cannot let Lena go.  I am thinking of writing a prequel when she was eighteen.  There were four months between when she started at ASU, with a full scholarship, and when she had to leave foster care.  I think there could be a book in that.  I am also writing, Panda of Death, as part of the Gunn Zoo series. But it is about the Red Pandas, not the black and white.