Monday, May 20, 2019

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

First Lines: 12 February 2016. DCI Nelson, Well, here we are again.

Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson and Dr. Ruth Galloway both receive anonymous threatening letters allegedly written by the same person. Why would Ruth's former mentor be trying to draw them both back into a murder case from years past? The more Nelson investigates, the more dangerous it becomes for everyone involved.

Elly Griffiths has done it yet again. Am I surprised? Not at all. She's one of the most gifted crime fiction writers I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Most writers either concentrate on crafting the best mystery they possibly can or on creating vivid characters, both in the attempt to keep readers coming back for more. Griffiths does both with style.

In The Stone Circle, there is a mystery that draws the two main characters back into the past. It's filled with excellent misdirection and lots of tension. As the mystery draws closer to its conclusion, readers know something is going to happen, but it's impossible to determine in which direction the threat is going to strike. Along with interesting nuggets of archaeological information, there are perfect drops of humor-- like someone gifting Ruth with a Fitbit or Harry imagining that Cathbad hangs from the ceiling like a bat when he sleeps. When the suspense keeps building, it's nice to laugh occasionally.

As always, the lives of the characters play a huge part in the book. The relationship between Ruth and Harry keeps evolving, and secrets are divulged. One of the things that sets Griffiths' books apart from so many others is the fact that she doesn't forget her secondary characters. Judy, Cathbad, Shona, and Dave are all woven deeply into the rich tapestry of life in this series of books.

The Stone Circle is one of those books that, once I started reading, I didn't want to come up for air until I was finished, and where Elly Griffiths is concerned, that's par for the course. I love reading the Dr. Ruth Galloway books for their mysteries, for the knowledge they impart about Norfolk's ancient past, and for their wonderful cast of characters. This is a series that I highly recommend... and I urge you to start at the beginning with The Crossing Places. You have some marvelous reading ahead of you!

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths
eISBN: 9781328974655
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt © 2019
eBook, 368 pages

Police Procedural, #11 Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Our First Visit to the Wildlife World Zoo, Part One

You never know where good tips are going to come from. The dental hygienist who cleans Denis's teeth (and mine) mentioned the Wildlife World Zoo to him, and when we looked it up, we decided to go see what it's all about.

Its full name is the Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park, and it's on the western edge of the Valley off the Loop 303. (The Phoenix metro area has three "ring roads"-- the 101, the 202, and the 303.) There are log flumes, sky rides, trains, restaurants, and a wide variety of critters to see, all spread out over 95 acres. If you work fast, it's still going to take most of a day to really see it all. Denis and I only had a very few hours, and we only managed to see about 45% of it. We're definitely going back-- we've at least got to see the half we missed, and we'd also like to explore at a slower pace!

I'm going to spread my selection of photos out over two posts, one this week and one next week. You might be surprised when I tell you that I took fewer photos this time, but it's all due to a quirk of mine. The very first time I visited a zoo, I was a child, it was the St. Louis Zoo, and almost all the animals were housed in small cages with bars. I still remember with horror the sight of a big male lion pacing back and forth endlessly in his tiny allotment. He was so unhappy! More and more, zoos are becoming sanctuaries for animal species that we seem determined to exterminate in the wild, so I'm thrilled that they're transforming themselves into more animal-friendly spaces. However, I still have a hangover from that long ago day in St. Louis: I do not like taking photos of animals through bars or wire, so you will see very little of that in these two posts.

It was a perfect day for being at the zoo. There were just enough clouds to give us respite from the bright desert sun, and the temperature was down in the eighties. Let's start exploring!

Perfect weather and perfect time of day-- no crowds! (db)

Once you pay for admission and get past the gift shops, you see flamingos. You can just see the wall of a patio across the way. You can eat at that restaurant while watching those beautiful birds! (db)

The eye of the flamingo.

There are scarlet ibises sharing space with the flamingos.

Here you can see part of the log flume ride. (db)

The jacaranda trees were flowering throughout the zoo.

Jacaranda flowers closeup.

From the Aquarium: a honeycomb moray eel and its shrimp buddy.

I forgot to take a photo of the info board on this shark so I'd remember its name. It lives off the coast of Russia somewhere-- and it reminds me of something gone wrong in my Creepy Crawler machine when I was little. Anyone remember those?

A spider monkey that stared at its reflection so long I named it Narcissus.

This is one of the aviary areas, and as you can see, there are plenty of mature trees to provide shade throughout the zoo.

An Addra gazelle.

Snoozing Beisa Oryxes.

The Skyride overhead.

I've had days when taking a leisurely snooze in a mudhole sounded really good. How about you? (db)

I hope this warthog has a good dental plan.

Black-necked Swans.

Little did we know that this African Spurred Tortoise would provide a bit of entertainment on our way out of the zoo.

A glimpse of the train you can climb aboard to travel around the zoo.

That concludes this week's portion of our visit to the Wildlife World Zoo. I hope you enjoyed it and will join us next week for the conclusion!

Friday, May 17, 2019

It's Heating Up on this Weekly Link Round-Up

We had some rain again last week, and it's beginning to make me think that Mother Nature is on some pretty strong meds. Of course, this area has been in a drought for so long (twenty years) that I've forgotten what "normal" is, so maybe it did rain regularly in March, April, and May in the dim past.

It is finally beginning to heat up here in Phoenix, which means that the pool water will soon be perfect for my reading and lounging requirements. I still wish my fairy godmother would install the necessaries for a heated pool, but I don't think she's changed the batteries in her hearing aids for quite some time.

But with the temperatures rising, I find that my reading speed is increasing. (Told you I don't do very well in the cold-- even in what passes for cold here in the Sonoran Desert.) I've taken a look at my reading calendar, in which I list all the advance reading copies I've committed myself to, and it looks like I've finally done something I've wanted to do for a long time: have plenty of free time to read whatever I want to read. If you're lucky, I won't do what I feel like doing right now-- scheduling a long list of working dog mysteries-- because too much of a good thing isn't really all that good, and I don't want to offend any of my cat-loving readers. I'll try to mix it up, but one thing for sure, I'm really looking forward to this!

Before I get too slaphappy with planning my upcoming reading, I'd better head on out to the corral. Those links always need tending. Head 'em up! Moooove 'em out!

►Books & Other Interesting Tidbits◄

►Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones◄

►Channeling My Inner Elly Mae Clampett◄

►Fascinating Folk◄
  • The amazing story of how the adventurous Kolb brothers helped inspire the creation of Grand Canyon National Park. 
  • Jeopardy star James Holzhauer on his children's book strategy. 
  • Molly Ringwald's surprising career path: novel translator.

►The Happy Wanderer◄
  • The Corryvreckan Whirlpool-- legend says a witch conjured the world's third largest whirlpool to protect Scotland from a nasty pirate.
  • How a candy craze almost wiped out the barrel cactus.
  • All it took to clean up this beach was a fish sculpture named Goby.
  • Sesame Street is now a real place.  
  • Rivers of flowers burst into bloom in Holland.

►I ♥ Lists◄

That's all for this week! Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure.

Have a great weekend, and read something fabulous!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge

First Line: She made her skittering, sliding way down the riverbank.

The discovery of the body of a young girl reopens a missing persons case from 1983. Leading the investigation is Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens, who went to school with the main suspects all those years ago. Aurora Jackson was fourteen and tagging along with her older sister and her sister's friends on a camping trip. When she disappeared, no one knew a thing, but her body was found in a location known only by those six friends. DCI Sheens is determined to get to the truth of what really happened that night, and he and his team are going to put in some very long hours before they do.

She Lies in Wait is the debut novel of Gytha Lodge, and it shows tons of promise. With the addition of chapters told from varying viewpoints in 1983, readers are taken deep into the group dynamics of the teenagers. In particular, Aurora's voice made me not only identify with her a bit but also mourn the loss of such a bright young soul. (In my opinion, Aurora and the newest member of Sheens' team, Detective Constable Hanson, are the best characters in the book.) Lodge has crafted a good story with plenty of misdirection and a list of suspects so annoying that it's difficult to choose the one most likely to be the killer. The pace does slow down from time to time, but a bit more editing can take care of things like that.

Although I did like the story, ultimately it was the characterization that let me down. For a character-driven reader like me, that's something that's extremely important. Hints throughout the first part of the book tell readers that DCI Jonah Sheens has a big secret, but when the reveal came, it fell flat. Sheens never did really pique my interest, and although his team does seem to have some interesting members, we're only told what they're like, they never show us by their actions. I would love to see them in action and learn more about them-- especially Lightman.

She Lies in Wait is a very good story, but it's told in a way that never really drew me in-- and if I can't care for the characters, it's very difficult for me to be enthusiastic about the book. But... this is a debut, so I'm interested in seeing where the second book will lead me.

She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge
eISBN: 9781984817365
Random House © 2019
eBook, 368 pages

Police Procedural, #1 DCI Jonah Sheens mystery
Rating: B-
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Stroll through the Desert Botanical Garden, Part Two

Last week, I shared half of our visit to the Desert Botanical Garden and left you just as we were getting close to our favorite place to relax, the Patio Cafe. Now it's time to share the rest of our stroll with you.

These virtual tours do have their advantages. You don't have to slather on sunscreen, get your wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and bring along a big bottle of cold water. But we did, so here we go!

The building is the Webster Auditorium. The huge cactus towering over it to the left are cardon cactus. They are the biggest cactus in the world, and they've been here as long as the Desert Botanical Garden has-- 1939.

The cardons were in bloom, too, and the outer layer of those blooms looks and feels like tan velvet.

Cactus flowers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, including pink-tinged white.

The Patio Cafe from our vantage point. To the left, you can buy drinks and food. Note that large pot on the left. There's more than meets the eye going on there.

Squirrels of all sizes live at the Garden.

There was a French family sitting at that table. The youngest son was trying to photograph the wildlife (Tip #1: Don't chase the critters around) while the older son was trying to feed the quail by hand. (No success.) Then the older son relaxed with both arms hanging down almost to the ground. You should've seen him jump when a large squirrel came over for a handout and sniffed his fingers!

Juvenile male Gambel's quail.

We'd been feeding two nursing mothers raw sunflower seeds when I discovered that one of them had her seed cache under that large pot!

Cactus flower

A nice shady bridge. I was heading for the succulent garden.

A rare crested saguaro. There was a hole further down its trunk. You know me. I always check holes.

That's because there's usually something looking out at me!

I loved the name of this cactus. Mother of Hundreds.

Some cactus blooms can be a bit... unsightly.

Garden view.

Multi-tasking: hulling sunflower seeds and cooling her tummy on the ground. (db)

A new prickly pear pad. (db)

Ocotillo blossoms. (db)


Inside the butterfly conservatory. (db)


Golden barrel cactus blossoms. (db)

Huge Madagascan ocotillo-- much different from our native variety! (db)

But I will say that our native variety has much prettier flowers! (db)

Sonoran Desert snowdrifts.  (db)

Well, that concludes our stroll through the Desert Botanical Garden. I hope you enjoyed it because we certainly did!

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

First Line: Perveen Mistry sighed, adjusting her hat on her sweating brow.

Things are not going well for the royal family of Satapur. The maharajah died of a sudden illness shortly before his teenage son died in a hunting accident. Now the state is ruled by an agent of the British Raj, so when the two maharanis become entangled in a dispute over the education of the crown prince, someone must be sent to straighten things out. Since the two women live in purdah and do not speak to men, there is only one person who can do the job: Perveen Mistry, Bombay's only female lawyer.

Determined to bring peace to the royal house and make a sound recommendation for the young prince's future, Perveen finds the royal palace a nest of cold-blooded power plays and long-lived vendettas. Her life-- and the lives of the royal children-- are in very real danger.

Sujata Massey's first Perveen Mistry novel, The Widows of Malabar Hill, was one of my Best Reads of 2018, so I was really looking forward to its follow-up. Not only is The Satapur Moonstone one of my Best Reads of 2019, I think it is even better than the first (multi-award-winning) book.

Massey is so very adept at guiding readers into the world of India in the 1920s. A world of arcane rules that mainly benefit British colonial rule. A world that, with the help of people like Mahatma Gandhi, is beginning to fight for its freedom. A world of incredibly wealthy maharajahs in independent states whose palaces have bronze doors and rubies inlaid in the floors. But she also shows how claustrophobic this world is. The jungle tightly wraps itself around Satapur Palace, a jungle containing all sorts of creatures that attack and kill humans. A jungle that has few paths to travel and whose rainy season makes those paths impassable and shuts the royal family away from the rest of the world.

In many ways, Satapur mirrors the rest of India. India is beginning to fight for its independence. Satapur has an old palace as well as a new palace which merges with the old to form an uneasy whole. In this divided palace live two maharanis: the dowager who refuses to relinquish her power, and the new who wants her son to have the sort of education that will help him guide his state into a brighter future.

Perveen has her work cut out for her. Somehow she has to remain true to herself while moving amongst the often overweening British, various religious factions, and dozens of royal protocols. It's not easy. There are many loathsome undercurrents simmering away in the palace. There are eyes and ears everywhere. How can she decide whom to trust?

The Satapur Moonstone immerses readers in a different world. The story is claustrophobic, its mood ominous, and it has the most delicious sense of suspense. It's not necessary to read The Widows of Malabar Hill before undertaking The Satapur Moonstone, but why deny yourself the pleasure of experiencing two excellent novels? Needless to say, I am eagerly awaiting the third book!

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey
eISBN: 9781616959104
Soho Crime © 2019
eBook, 361 pages

Historical Mystery, #2 Perveen Mistry mystery
Rating: A+
Source: the publisher

Sunday, May 12, 2019

At The Poisoned Pen with Betty Webb!

I've gotten behind in posting my recaps of the events I've attended at my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. Shame on me! This means that I'm not going to waste a lot of time with setting the scene when one of my favorite authors, Betty Webb, came to the bookstore to talk to us about her latest book, Desert Redemption, which may or may not be the last Lena Jones mystery. Suffice it to say, lots of fans showed up, which is always a good thing!

Betty chatting with fans pre-event.
Barbara: Good evening, everybody! Thank you so much for coming. Thank you also to our Facebook and Youtube audiences. This is a landmark event tonight: a ten-book... has it been a ten-year project, too?

Betty: Actually, it's more like twenty! [audience laughter]

Barbara: The part I've been involved in has been shorter than that, I think.

Betty: No, remember that halfway through I started writing the Gunn Zoo mysteries.

Barbara: Yes, you're right.

Betty: At that point, I would give you a book every year, but one year, it would be a Lena Jones and the other it would be a Gunn Zoo.

Barbara: Twenty years. Wow! The thing that's interesting about Betty-- well, there are many things that are interesting about Betty-- is that her voice is very different in the two series. When she wrote the Lena Jones books, I had to redline through all the stuff that was cute. When she wrote the Gunn Zoo books, when the story got dark, I had to say, "Whoops, wrong voice!" [audience laughter]

Betty: I tell people who have read some of my books that Lena Jones is my dark side. Lena Jones is the side where when you do something evil to me, I will do something three times as evil back to you. Okay. So that's Lena Jones. Now the other voice, my light side, my clean side, my good side, my better angel, is Teddy, who is the zookeeper in the Gunn Zoo mysteries. If you do something evil to Teddy, the first time she'll say, "I forgive you." But if you do it to her the second time, you're dead. [audience laughter]

Barbara: I really have a hard time finding a dark side to Betty, but I agree that Lena is probably as bad as she gets. However, Betty's had a recent wonderful encomium in a publicity campaign done by our new publishing partner Sourcebooks in which they compared you to...

L to R: Barbara Peters, Betty Webb

Betty: I've been compared to Sue Grafton and J.D. Robb! When you stop to think about the two different types of books those women write, it's kind of interesting. I don't know what to think about that.

Barbara: Why don't you just be glad?

Betty: Yeah. Well, you do notice that I tend to complicate things. [audience laughter] If someone says to me, "Oh, you look nice today, Betty," I'll ask, "What do you mean?"

Barbara: Just flash your red shoes at them and be done with it. [more laughter] Your origin story of the Lena Jones books always pleases me, so let's start at the beginning since some people in the audience haven't heard it.

Betty: Once upon a time in a little town called Scottsdale, Arizona, I was a reporter, and I was working on the Tribune newspapers here. When you work on a newspaper-- and I know you don't believe this, folks-- you really have to check your facts and make sure they're right.

Barbara: That was twenty years ago. [audience laughter]

Betty Webb
Betty: I got so irritated being fact-checked all the time, I just thought that I wanted to write some fiction, but I didn't know what kind of fiction to write. I thought it may be a mystery, but I just couldn't come up with a plot. The odd thing is, I teach writing now. I have students who come in and say, "I want to write, but I don't know what I want to write." I can feel for that!

Anyway, my editor made me come down to the Scottsdale Art Walk to cover that. I went to an actual art school; I've been a working artist for thirty-five years in LA and New York City. So they thought they'd turn me loose on the Scottsdale Art Walk and see how that works out.

I go into a gallery that says "Native American Paintings," and that's what I expected to see. What I saw were naked pictures of Indian women done in oils-- and not all that well.

Barbara: Wait. Start again. You saw naked women in pictures, not in oils. Not naked pictures.

Betty: Well, they were framed, so... [audience laughter]

Barbara: I can't help it! I'm her editor and I'm used to improving her syntax! [audience laughter]

Betty: So anyway, I took one look at the painting and said, "This wasn't done by a Native American artist because they do not paint their women nude." I went up to the gallery manager-- or owner, don't know which-- and said, "That's not Native American art you've got on your wall." She said, "Yes, it is!" "Nooo, it's not." "It is, too!" And I said, "What tribe?" And then there's this big blank look. The look of terror you see on someone's face when they're caught in a lie. I said, "You really should take your signs down that say Authentic Native American Art."

Available Now!
I was furious; we had a fight. My husband was there with me. He knows when I'm getting mad, and he knows to clear the decks. So he went outside. I was scaring the other patrons away. I finally stalked out, turned to my husband and said, "Somebody ought to kill that woman!" He looked at me and said, "Well, there's your plot!" [audience laughter] A year later, I turned Desert Noir over to Barbara, and that book is about the killing of an art gallery owner in Scottsdale, Arizona on Art Walk Night!

Barbara: The part she left out is that it was on the doorstep of the original Poisoned Pen because we were next door to the art gallery in question.

Betty: Yeah, and the doorstep had blood on it! There was a big splatter of blood-- in tile, of course. [Some of those tiles now grace the cash register area.]

Barbara: How could I turn her down when she killed someone practically on our doorstep? So that was Lena, and Betty said then that she envisioned this ten-book story arc, which is pretty unusual for an author to come to you and say. But by golly, you did it.

Betty: Well, Lena helped. As I've said before, Lena actually came to me in a dream. After I had that brawl with the art gallery owner, I went home and wrote the first chapter of Desert Noir, but I didn't have a detective. I knew I had a dead gallery owner, but I didn't have a detective. It could've gone into a cozy. I could've made my detective some sweet lady who knits or makes quilts, or I could have some hard-bitten police detective.

I went to bed that night after finishing the first chapter, and Lena Jones actually came to me in a dream. Her entire life came to me in a dream. Including who shot her because Lena was found at the age of four, lying by the side of Thomas Road with a bullet in her head. She was in a coma for two months, and when she came to, she had no memory left. She had to learn how to walk again, talk again. She had behavioral problems. I have behavioral problems, so I just gave mine to Lena. [audience laughter]

Betty Webb
She was considered unadoptable and went through the foster care system, which at that time is rougher than it is now because they didn't have the ways to doublecheck the stories of the people who were applying to be foster parents. In one of the foster homes she went to, she was raped at the age of nine. She was able to stop the rape because she had a butcher knife.

As I was dreaming that, it became so implanted in me that I felt I knew her. Lena actually became the daughter I never had. I have two sons, but I never had a daughter, and I really feel that Lena is my daughter. So with this tenth book, it was really hard to write because it was like I was abandoning her, but not really. For those of you who... don't worry! I did not kill Lena! And I did not kill Jimmy either. [audience laughter] So don't worry about that.

It was really hard for me to finish this. I struggled with it, but the story arc was natural. To know that, all the way through these books, Lena has been looking for her parents. She wants to know why she was shot, who shot her, and why they never showed up at the hospital to claim her. For ten books, she's been looking for these answers, and in this book, she gets those answers.

Available Now!
Barbara: Every first novel in a series is introducing you to the characters and to the whole world the characters are going to inhabit, so there's a lot of what we call "set-up." Desert Noir has some desert survival elements to it, but after that Betty's career as an investigative reporter gave her the tools to look into one interesting social issue after another. So the books are Lena's story, but in each one, you also get a complicated investigation into something that personally outraged you.

Betty: Yeah, and I'm always outraged. Those of you who know me know this, but it seems like Arizona is the fulcrum of outrages. If there's something horrible going on in the world, I'm not going to say that it starts here, but it gets here pretty darned quickly. Human rights abuses... this is one of the great states to explore them. That's what all the books turned out to be about--human rights abuses-- which is not something I planned in the beginning.

But if you'll notice, there was a ghost of it there because in that first book, Desert Noir, I talked about what happened to the elderly Hispanics who owned the original adobes where they built Talking Stick Arena. They were just given a check for $25,000 and moved out. Those people owned those homes and had lived in them all their lives. There you have someone who's eighty years old. She's a widow. She has no job. And she's given a check for $25,000 and told to go buy a new house. That's kind of unfair, and it's an abuse of eminent domain. So even in that first book, I started going after abuses.

Available Now!
Barbara: Well, you're really good, and when you wrote the second one, Desert Wives, which was about the polygamous communities up north, Janet Napolitano was governor. Janet and I had been friends since the time I opened The Poisoned Pen because she was a lawyer practicing here in Scottsdale and a big mystery fan. She would come in at about 5:30 at night before I closed and lean on the counter, and we would talk about mysteries.

So when I read Desert Wives, which if you recall, was it back in the thirties when an Arizona governor tried to...?

Betty: It was the fifties.

Barbara: was a political disaster for the governor. When Betty wrote this book, I thought maybe I should talk to Janet before we publish this because the governor was a part of this. I wanted to talk about it on this side of a lawsuit rather than the far side, and it actually prompted Janet to do something about the border communities. But in the process, I said to Betty, if we're going to publish this, we need you to put your notes and your research in the back of the book so that it doesn't appear to be completely unfounded allegations, and that's been the pattern in the books ever since. She's written an afterward in each of the books so you can kind of follow along in the investigation.

Betty: A lot of people have used the information in the backs of the books to start citizens groups to protest that sort of thing. One of the books that you said was the hardest to sell was Desert Cut...

Barbara: Yes, that was the hardest to sell.

Betty: ...because it was a really unpleasant subject-- female genital mutilation-- which most people here are not aware that it's in Arizona. In fact, it's all over the United States. When I wrote that, I had a book tour, and I talked to people and told them that they needed to look into their own communities to see if it was happening there. One of the great things that happened in the aftermath of Desert Cut was when the Arizona government realized that there was not a law prohibiting female genital mutilation and became one of the twenty-three states in America that now does have a law against it. The books have made a difference, and I'm proud of that-- which was another reason why I was really torn about bringing this series to an end.

L to R: Barbara Peters, Betty Webb
Barbara: Betty then wrote a very moving book, Desert Lost, about the boys in those polygamous communities because-- let's face it-- if you live in a society in which all the women belong to a very few of the men, what happens to the boys?

My favorite of all the Lena Jones books is Desert Run because I just love the idea that a group of German prisoners in Papago Park built a boat, and their whole plan was to break out of the camp and get in their boat and float down the great Salt River to the sea.

In many ways, I think it's your cleverest plot.

Betty: It had to be clever because twenty-five of them escaped. They didn't do anything dastardly while they were out there, but I'm a mystery writer. I have to kill somebody. [audience laughter] So I had to think hard about that. Oh, I know? I'll make it twenty-eight of them escaped, and three of them were involved in something dastardly. So I took a real event and intermixed the three fictional characters, and I just had a lot of fun writing that one.

Barbara: I was embarrassed to realize that we even had a German prisoner of war camp in Scottsdale. I didn't know it until I read your book. How did I miss that?

Betty: How I first learned about it was that I was sitting in my little pod at the newspaper, and the guy sitting next to me was interviewing someone over the phone. The person he was interviewing was either German or the son of a German. I eavesdropped. Reporters will eavesdrop, be very careful! If you notice someone following you down the street, it may not be a stalker, it may be a reporter who heard you say something interesting and he wants to hear about it. [audience laughter] When he hung up, I said, "Wait a minute! Did I hear you correctly? There was a prisoner of war camp down in Papago Park?" "Well, it wasn't a park then." He was interviewing one of the old guards. He gave me the phone number, and I got to talk to him.

There were 3200 German sailors there that were taken out of the U-boats on the North Atlantic. After the war was over, they were sent back to Germany, but many came back to settle in Arizona because they'd been treated so well. Every few years, they would have a reunion party, and the Germans would come over from Germany, and the guards would show up, and they'd have a big party.

Available Now!
Barbara: Actually one of the most interesting conversations we've had-- and the only time I've ever seen her nervous when we were talking about a book-- was for Desert Wind.

Betty: Oh, Desert Wind, yeah! Desert Wind was about the atomic bomb testing in Nevada in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. During that time, there were over 940 bombs tested out there. The nuclear fallout spread heavily over the Southwest, but it also made the Geiger counters go off in Central Park in New York.

There's no way of knowing how many American civilians died, but many developed poisoning from the fallout. A lot of young children and babies developed leukemia. Breast cancer, cancer of the esophagus... because the fallout would land on the gardens of the people who lived up there. The cancer rate was going sky-high. Some lawyers got involved and people with a little bit of education in nuclear energy, and they petitioned the government about reparations.

The government said oh no, it's not us. It's just a fluke. One of the interesting things about that time was there was one bomb that was so dirty it was called Dirty Harry, the fallout was so serious. At the time Dirty Harry was dropped, John Wayne was filming The Conqueror up in Snow Canyon, Utah. The way the canyon was shaped, it became a funnel for most of the radioactive fallout. In ten to fifteen years, 50% of the cast and crew of The Conqueror had died from various types of cancers. The government used the film crew as an example-- their very unhealthy lifestyle-- to prove it wasn't the government's fault. But then some of the other civilians came forward and said, "We're Mormons. We don't smoke. We don't drink. We didn't do it to ourselves, you did it to us." They were what was called the Downwinders. Eventually, each of the victims was awarded $50,000.

Barbara: We haven't touched on the reason why you were nervous about talking about the book. John Wayne and the...

Barbara and Betty
A fan: Ghost!

Betty: Oh, I got a little woo-woo in that book. I used John Wayne's ghost in the book. I was worried about it for a while because there had never been a woo-woo aspect to a Lena Jones book, but I decided to go for it.

The funny thing about it was that I had never been a fan of John Wayne. I liked his movies, but by the time I finished all my research on him, I was a total fangirl. Because there are times when we need heroes. Perhaps he wasn't a hero in real life, but he portrayed one so well, it was easy for other Americans to look at that and say, "Yes, that is what a hero is like."

Barbara: So when he tips his hat at the end, I think Betty thought I was going to take my vicious red pen and chop away, but I thought it was wonderful. But that's the only time I've ever seen you nervous about how I was going to react to one of your books.

Betty: Yes! I've got John Wayne and a ghost, and Barbara's going to kill me.

Barbara: And before we got to book ten, which would have been terrible.

Betty: That's really why you didn't kill me.

There then followed a few minutes in which Betty talked about Lena's penchant for the wrong men being based on her own life and how she is considering writing a Lena Jones prequel when Lena is eighteen and has aged out of the foster care system. (Barbara is a big supporter of the prequel option.) They also talked a bit about Betty's Gunn Zoo series before taking questions from the audience. If any of you would like to see the entire event, I urge you to watch it on The Poisoned Pen's Youtube channel.