In this intriguing first novel, Jon Talton plunges his protagonist, David Mapstone, into a Sunbelt metropolis where corruption, betrayal and murder are lurking just beyond the glow of tony resorts and dramatic desert sunsets.
Having recently lost his job as a history professor, Mapstone returns to his boyhood home of Phoenix, Arizona, but finds the Southwest city he knew dramatically changed. It's now a haven for wealthy retirees and a seasonal retreat for West Coast "sophisticates."
To Mapstone, who has a strong personal feeling for the area's history, it seems a foreign place. There remain, however, pockets of his earlier life, some welcome, some not. Mapstone eagerly accepts a temporary job from his old friend and Maricopa County Chief Deputy Mike Peralta: Look into still-open cases that have languished for years in the department's file cabinets and see if he can close any.
A less welcome voice from the past is the college sweetheart, who appears at his door one evening. True to his memory of her, she is there because she wants something. Never mind that she had abruptly abandoned him 20 years ago for a wealthier lover. Now her sister is missing. Will Mapstone look for her? Although Mapstone's search for the missing woman is quickly resolved when her body is discovered in the desert, he is stunned to find an echo of the past in the grisly discovery. The dead sister has been found in circumstances identical to a sensational 40-year-old unsolved murder he is researching for Peralta.
Mapstone's dogged investigation of both murders bridges the chasm of clashing cultures, meshing his own long-ago memories and the stories from some of the city's old inhabitants with the tangled doings of newcomers and their acolytes, young women eager to share the lifestyle of tainted wealth, drugs, and careless violence.
To read Concrete Desert is to become completely engrossed in a highly unusual mystery that is further enriched by the author's perspective on the way America is changing.
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Jon Talton is a fourth-generation Arizonan who grew up in the same Phoenix neighborhood David Mapstone calls home. He currently works as a columnist for The Arizona Republic.From Publishers Weekly:
One good thing you can say about this pedestrian-plotted, clich‚-ridden debut is that the narrator, Phoenix-born cop turned college history teacher David Mapstone, knows an interesting historical anecdote when he hears one. Tales of the rise of Phoenix, Ariz., from provincial city (with a small-town feel) to blighted metropolis are the best parts of the book. Unfortunately, Talton's familiarity with the city's history is no compensation for his over-familiarity with the conventions of the mystery novel. After being denied tenure for his resistance to "non-linearity," Mapstone returns to the Phoenix force as a consultant on long-unsolved cases. His latest assignment is the 40-year-old discovery of a young woman strangled in the desert. Her death matches a series of such murders that occurred at the time. Legend has it these were the work of the unseen, unapprehended "Creeper," whose nefarious deeds ceased as mysteriously as they began. Was the woman a victim of Phoenix's first serial killer? Mapstone's investigation is interrupted by the appearance of an old flame, his first true love. She appeals to him to help find her sister, who has disappeared. Need we add that the two cases wend their way to homicide? Talton is a competent writer. His idea of a historian-detective investigating old cases is an excellent one, and his historical anecdotes are genuinely interesting. But the plotting and the characters are just too historical. (July 9)Forecast: Dry.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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