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by Patricia Stoltey
Gale, August 2009
275 pages
ISBN: 159414785X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As the population ages, the appetite for senior sleuths has grown. I was initially skeptical about the vigor of the 80-something people in Patricia Stoltey's THE DESERT HEDGE MURDERS until I remembered that P.D. James wrote a novel at age 86.

Her mother has persuaded retired Florida judge Sylvia Thorn to lead a tour to Nevada of The Florida Flippers, a group so named because of their allegiance to the Miami Dolphins. The Flippers are a motley crew, led primarily by Sylvia's mother, Kristina Grisseljon, but featuring a cowgirl wannabe, Marianne Gruber, 75, who regularly seeks out the nearest bar, and Sandra Pringle, 65, married to a man whose mysterious business requires him to travel (by himself) a great deal.

As the group is settling into their Laughlin, Nevada, hotel rooms, a scream brings Sylvia to Sandra and Patsy Strump's room, where Sandra has collapsed after finding a dead man in the bathroom tub.

A foray to the Lone Cactus Gold Mine in nearby Oatman, Arizona, leads the group to the grisly discovery of Sandra's body, wedged in a mine shaft, strangled with her scarf. An effort to retrieve her body is unsuccessful.

The remainder of the book consists of various illegal activities by the Florida Flippers; Sylvia is also investigating, now with the help of Patsy Strump, who turns out to be a private investigator, as was the dead man in the bath tub. The book is told from alternate points of view -- first person by Sylvia and third person focusing on her clairvoyant brother, Willie. That sort of shift is often difficult to handle, but it works out very nicely in this case.

Sylvia is a contradiction. As a former judge, she should be reluctant to break the law, but she does it constantly. As a former judge, she should probably be smart, but she does things the average four-year-old would think a bad idea -- going into a dark mine at midnight with a guide she'd met only the day before. She keeps saying that she realizes what she's doing is stupid but that her pig-headed personality makes her do it anyway. Sorry. Admitting you know something is stupid is no excuse for stupidity. Nevertheless, what with Sylvia's investigating, Willie's help, and intervention by the FBI, a scam that led to two murders is finally and satisfactorily exposed.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, July 2009

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