Written by Kay Kendall — Kendall has a background in international corporate communications and Desolation Row is her debut historical mystery, inspired by her favourite suspense stories set during World Wars I and II. However this story takes place during 1968, with the Vietnam War raging, and going up the political agenda. Austin Starr’s husband David decides to protest the war by emigrating from Texas to Canada and joining an anti-war protest group. Except, instead of escaping trouble he lands right in the middle of it.
One evening Austin is looking for David and the anti-war group. Told they were last seen gathering at the local church she goest to find them, but gets more than she bargained for when she stumbles across a dead body in the church kitchen. Upon closer inspection Austin realises that the body belongs to Reginald Simpson, a fellow draft resister and the black-sheep son of a US senator. Clearly shaken, she attempts to find a phone to call the police. However, when they begin their investigations, their lead suspect is David Starr and Austin’s worst fears are realised when he is arrested.
The only evidence against him is a note found in the pocket of Reg Simpson’s jacket, which says: ‘Get two hundred dollars for DS. Meet at church eight thirty tonight’. Convinced of his innocence, and a lover of mystery and espionage novels, Austin launches her own investigation into the murder. Unsure of where to start, Austin seeks help with her professor, Dr Klimenko. With his great advice and the friendship of his daughter Larissa Klimenko Austin finally feels hope that she can crack the case.
When Mrs Duncan the church secretary is killed in suspicious circumstances and the ominous letters warning Austin to stop turn into death threats she is in a race against time to find the killer or risk losing everything.
This debut novel is a wonderful fast paced mystery. Austin is a great character and the perfect heroine. You’ll certainly feel sympathy for her as she adapts to the Canadian way of life, having moved there from Texas, whilst desperately trying to clear her husband’s name. However, I did struggle to believe that someone could be arrested and detained for murder just because of a note – in reality it might be enough to suspect someone but certainly not arrest them.
Desolation Row seems to accurately depict North American life in the 60s, when many Americans flocked to Canada to avoid the draft. Canada is portrayed as the fairer country compared to America with regards to both the war and its judicial system. It’s also a well-written mystery thriller that keeps you wondering whodunnit right up until the end. I am looking forward to the sequel, Rainy Day Women.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars