Title: Desolation Flats by Andrew Hunt
Art Oveson Series Book Three
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Historical (30s), Mystery
Length: 385 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
In the summer of 1938, as war clouds loom overseas, auto racers from around the world gather at the Bonneville Salt Flats west of Salt Lake City, intent on breaking the land-speed record. But when Clive Underhill, a wealthy English motorist, mysteriously disappears and his younger brother, Nigel, is found dead, Art Oveson of the Salt Lake City Missing Persons Bureau is called to investigate.
Suddenly, Art’s best friend and former partner, Roscoe Lund, becomes the number-one suspect in Nigel’s murder, prompting Art to follow a murky trail involving homegrown fascists, bigoted ex-cops, a string of homicides, and a German auto racer with a mysterious past. And, through it all, FBI Agent Frank Oveson tries to prevent his “kid brother” Art from discovering dark truths that may threaten his life.
Tony Hillerman Prize–winning author and historian Andrew Hunt transports us to 1930s Salt Lake City in Desolation Flats, this engrossing, detailed mystery that shows what goes on behind the scenes in the supposedly clean-cut Mormon capital.
Desolation Flats is another superb installment in Andrew Hunt’s Art Oveson mystery series starring Mormon policeman Art Oveson. In this outing, following the disappearance of British race car driver Clive Underhill and the murder of his brother, Nigel, Art’s investigation takes him into the dark underbelly of the Nazi party and closer to home, fascism and bigoted ex-cops.
Helping his cousin at the Bonneville Salt Flats before the upcoming land-speed trials, Art is delighted to run into his ex-partner and close friend, Roscoe Lund, who is providing extra security for Clive. When Clive’s test run ends in fiery crash, Art risks his own life to save the trapped driver. In an effort to repay him for rescuing him from certain death, Clive invites Art to join him for dinner that evening at an upscale club. At the urging of his wife, Clara, Art accepts the invitation and while a bit out of his element, he enjoys meeting Clive’s old college friends, Peter Insley and German race-car driver, Rudy Heinrich. The next morning, Art learns Nigel has been murdered and Clive has vanished without a trace. He is dismayed to discover that his brother, FBI Agent Frank Oveson, is part of the investigation but it is the identity of the local police’s chief suspect that truly distresses him. With warnings to stay out of the murder investigation, Art is determined to find Clive and hopefully, clear his friend’s name.
Art has a strong moral compass and steadfast work ethic. He will leave no stone unturned as he doggedly pursues leads and although he tries to follow his boss’s orders, he cannot in good conscience ignore some of the information he uncovers. Occasionally going outside of his purview and jurisdiction, Art’s dedication to finding justice is both his best and worst trait. He is incredibly loyal and although he usually tries to obey orders, Art is convinced of the only suspect’s innocence and he refuses to give up searching for the truth.
As his investigation unfolds, Art tries to remain under the radar as he revisits witnesses and digs deeper into the backgrounds of Clive’s friends and associates. Manager Albert Shaw seems concerned about Clive’s safety, but is there more to his story than meets the eye? German driver Rudy Heinrich is deeply entrenched in the Nazi party and with Hitler counting him to break the land-speed record, he is quite circumspect as he answers Art’s question. Art cannot help but wonder just how far Rudy will go to ensure he succeeds but would he kidnap his friend to further the Nazi cause? What, if anything, does former policeman and current head of hotel security Dooley Metzger have to do with the events on the night Nigel was murdered and Clive disappeared? The more information Art learns about the odious man, the more suspicious he becomes that Dooley might know more than he has revealed. After another man goes missing, Art makes an impetuous decision that could break the case wide open if it does not cost him life.
Interspersed with the ongoing investigation are intriguing glimpses of Art’s life at home. Wife Clara has been struggling with severe depression since the birth of their youngest daughter, four year old Emily. Additionally, she and fifteen year old daughter Sarah Jane are at loggerheads over Sarah Jane’s social activism and waning interest in the Mormon church. Clara is also none too pleased about Art’s continued loyalty to Roscoe and things between them grow tense as he makes what she considers to be questionable decisions where his friend is concerned. Can Art salvage their relationship before it is irreparably damaged?
With an imaginative plot, an intrepid investigator and a perplexing mystery, Desolation Flats is a riveting whodunit that is impossible to put down. The storyline is fast-paced and offers readers a realistic peek into the increasingly tense and volatile situation in Nazi Germany as Hitler continues to put his plans into motion. Art’s investigation is quite captivating as he slowly but surely begins to uncover the truth about Clive’s disappearance and Nigel’s murder. Andrew Hunt brings the novel to a pulse-pounding, action-packed conclusion that completely ties up all of the story’s loose ends. Fans of historical mysteries are sure to love this latest installment in the Art Oveson series.