Set in the modern day Utah desert in and around the small town of Mt. Dessicate, Detective Cody Oliver has his hands full as lead detective on what may be the biggest serial murder case the state has ever seen. The graves are adorned with blue-tinted tulips, which aren’t native. He only has a handful of clues to go on, including the eye witness report of Alex Thompson, who reported a man in a cop’s uniform acting vaguely aggressive on a certain stretch of highway. It’s not much to go on, but when this unknown killer takes further action, the Mt. Dessicate police department gets desperate and comes up with a rather risky plan to draw the killer out.
This book caught and held my attention. First, I love the Utah desert scene. Lots of mysteries and secrets and, apparently, bodies are hidden in the Utah desert. It’s hot and dry and that adds a little bit to how things happen in the book – everyone gets sweaty, people need to carry water around, etc. Also, there’s the terrain and how that enables the killer to effectively hide while stumping the searchers.
Second, there’s the big mystery of the serial killer, but then lots of little mysteries that may or may not pertain to the killer. Cody has to sort through these to find the truth. I really liked how these wrapped around each other. My main criticism is that not all of these smaller mysteries were fully wrapped up. By the end of the book, I still had questions, lots of them, and mostly pertaining to these smaller details. Now I know that in real life, we don’t always get all the answers to such a mystery, and I think I would have been OK with that if some knowledgeable character, like Cody or his Captain, acknowledged that and purposefully shelved tying off these minor mysteries. I would have been even more happy if they could have been neatly wrapped up, because this is fiction and we can get away with that.
We only have a handful female characters in this book. Alex Thompson is smack in the middle of the mystery so she gets the most page time. At first, she was OK as a character. At one point she’s having this internal debate about whether or not she has the emotional fortitude to kill a serial killer and I thought she was rather daft for even questioning it, given the circumstances. But she rallies and becomes a character who helps move the plot along and makes decisive choices that defy the bad guy. Even though she had to be rescued a few times, I grew to like her. All the other ladies are mothers, grandmothers, a woman who one of the detectives was dating, wives, nurses. There’s also Rose who works for the police department answering phones and doing paperwork. While a few women have some little nibblet that pertains to the investigation, none of them are plot integral. Also, I want to note that none of the detectives nor any of the police that come from surrounding cities and states to assist are female, which I found odd. So I would have liked to see a few more ladies doing something besides being wives and mothers.
Still, with those two negatives, it was a nail biting detective story. There is so much going on with this tale because the killer has been active for so long. A private investigator, Lars Stieger, starts looking into the land the bodies were found on, and the history starts to unfold. Because there is this wealth of backstory for our heroes to uncover, there was always some new bit for me to gasp over. As things start to close in on the killer, the stakes get higher. Not everyone gets out alive. Folks will be mourning. I liked that the author did not shy away from this as it gave the story more weight.
There’s also some mild humor throughout. The detectives are kind of big boys in the office, razzing each other and throwing things. Tom and Frank are older than Cody, and there’s a fourth detective who is younger but I forget his name. The Captain (Brecken, I think?) looks on their horseplay like a stern benevolent uncle. He never takes part in it, but he allows the boys to blow off steam this way.
Over all, it was a worthy read and kept me entertained throughout. I would have enjoyed an additional chapter to wrap things up a bit more, but that won’t keep me from reading other murder mysteries by this author.
I received an ARC of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.