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DESOLATION CANYON by P. J. Tracy: Book Review

A remote desert retreat run by a “man of God,” an organization finding good homes for Russian orphans, a mother grieving the loss of her only son in Afghanistan, the death of a successful businessman at an elegant Beverly Hills hotel.   Four seemingly unrelated situations that coalescence into a single case bring Los Angeles police detective Margaret (Maggie) Nolan and former Army soldier Sam Easton together again.

Children of the Desert is at the center of Desolation Canyon.  It’s a spiritual retreat that’s “gained the attention of celebrities,” Maggie’s father tells her when he informs her that her mother is heading there for a two-day stay to get herself healed, but that doesn’t impress Maggie.  She’s been hurt and bewildered by her mother’s behavior ever since Maggie’s brother Max was killed, and now she’s wondering why her mother has to seek out strangers to help her deal with her loss, why her husband and daughter aren’t enough for her.

Maggie decides to put the concerns about her mother aside and calls Remy Beaudreau, a former police detective for whom she has some unresolved feelings.  They meet for a drink at the luxurious Hotel Bel-Air, and Maggie shares more than she means to about what is going on in her family.  When she mentions the name of the retreat that her mother is going to, it’s obvious that it has some meaning for Remy.  In an attempt to shift the conversation, he suggests they view the hotel’s famous Swan Lake, famous as a site for weddings.

But instead of the serene site they’d anticipated, the swans seem agitated and are batting their wings against the water.  And just moments later, Maggie and Remy see something in the water, and it turns out to be the body of a man.

The body is identified as Blake Lindgren, a lawyer who was general counsel for a Russia-baaed company.  When Maggie and her partner Al Crawford go to the home of Blake’s former wife, they find another corpse; now both Mr. and Mrs. Lindgren have died under suspicious circumstances.

Inside a California prison, Glenn Ramey is visited by “Snake” Jackson, a man he’d done time with years earlier.  Now calling himself Father Paul, Jackson tells Ramey he’s founded a spiritual retreat in the desert, a place where he’s “restoring wounded souls” and that he needs Ramey to be a key part of his security team at the Children of the Desert site.

Disbelieving, Ramey refers to Jackson as a former felon, and the latter’s countenance “transformed fully into a nightmare mask.”  Jackson tells Ramey, “Never mention it again…I’m here to save your life but it wouldn’t trouble me to end it.”

P. J. Tracy has done a masterful job putting together all the pieces of this intricate puzzle.  The plot of Desolation Canyon is suspenseful, and the many characters are believable and true to life.  You can read more about P. J. Tracy at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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