I just finished Desert Cut, the latest Lena Jones mystery. It's a very powerful story, as are some of Betty Webb's earlier books in the series. I feel so honored that Betty agreed to answer some questions about her books.
Lesa - Betty, would you tell us about Lena, her background, and some of her past cases?
Betty - Lena was found at the age of four, lying beside a Phoenix roadway, with a bullet in her head. When she emerged from her coma, she couldn't remember her name, who shot her, or who her parents were - total amnesia. The name "Lena Jones" was given to her by a social worker. Because of behavior problems, Lena wasn't deemed a candidate for adoption, so she was placed in the foster care system. Some were okay, but in at least one, she was beaten and raped. She eventually became a Scottsdle police officer, but after being shot up in a botched drug raid, she opened up her own private investigation business. Since her emergence in "Desert Noir," where her best friend - an art dealer - was murdered, she has gone on to investigate a polygamy compound in "Desert Wives," the niche publishing industry in "Desert Shadows," the real-life escape of German prisoners of war in "Desert Run" (a cold case file), and now a particularly hideous form of child abuse in "Desert Cut."
Lesa - You were a journalist before you turned to writing mysteries. How does your background impact the Lena Jones books?
Betty - Being a journalist gave me instant access to "hidden" stories, stories which were deemed too hot to handle by most industries. Also, my background as a journalist gave me terrific research skills - and the ability to know when someone was lying to me.
Lesa - Tell us about this latest Lena Jones book, "Desert Cut."
Betty - In "Desert Cut," Lena discovers a small town with a big secret. Los Perdidos, in Southern Arizona, has a large immigrant population, but not merely Hispanics. As has been happening in states all around the U.S., African and Middle Eastern immigrants have been brought in to provide cheap labor, but this clash of cultures turns out to be explosive.
Lesa - Your books have very powerful statements to make about social issues such as polygamy. Does fiction allow you to do more with social issues than journalism did?
Betty - Weirdly enough, yes. No one was writing about polygamy before "Desert Wives" came out, but a few months after it hit the bookstores, everybody and his dog was writing about it. And I am proud to say that "Desert Wives" played a major part in getting the law about polygamy changed here in Arizona. Before "Desert Wives," our legislature saw polygamy as a freedom of religion issue; after "Desert Wives," they could no longer turn their back on the rampant incest and child rape in the compounds, as well as the millions of dollars of welfare fraud the "prophets" were enjoying. I'm hoping for the same result with "Desert Cut."
Lesa - Lena's stories are set in Arizona. You seem to have a love/hate relationship with the state, its history, and its present. How do you actually see Arizona?
Betty - I've lived in Arizona since 1982, and during that time, I've seen the beautiful raped by developers. Gorgeous desert vistas are now covered in strip malls and housing developments. I spend a lot of time grinding my teeth about it.
Lesa - Am I correct in that you're starting another series? What can you tell us about it?
Betty - Yes, and believe it or not, it's a "traditional" mystery (otherwise known as a cozy). I'm a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo, and one day, when I was working with the monkeys, I thought, "You know, there's got to be a book in this." So I wrote one. The first book in the new series is "The Anteater of Death," and it's set in a coastal California zoo, where a dead man turns up in the anteater enclosure. The anteater was framed! My sleuth in this series is Teddy, a poor little rich girl who has rebelled against her wealthy family by taking a job as a zookeeper. "The Anteater of Death" is due out in March '09, and there'll be another book every year in the series, featuring a different animal. Oh, and by the way, those books will be released under the pen name of Jo Howell.
Lesa - You won't leave Lena's fans hanging, will you? What are the plans for more Lena Jones books?
Betty - As of this point, there are 5 more books planned, and yes, in the 10th book, Lena will discover EVERYTHING about her mysterious past. But the series just might not stop there. What she discovers won't exactly set her anxieties to rest!
Lesa - As a librarian, I always end my interviews with a question about libraries. Betty, do you have any stories about the role libraries played in your life or career?
Betty - Wow, where to begin? Ever since I learned how to read at the tender age of 3 1/2, librarians have been my major role models. One even let me sneak books out of the adult section when I was only 10. Bless her! No matter where I lived, librarians always took me under their wings, told me what books I should be reading, what I might find too silly for words, and - during my current incarnation as a mystery novelist - helped me with my research. Librarians are angels, every last one of them.
Lesa - Thank you so much, Betty, for the interview, and the Lena Jones books.
Betty Webb's website is www.bettywebb-mystery.com
Desert Cut by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2008. ISBN 978-1590584910 (hardcover), 277p.