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'Desolation Flats' has murder and international intrigue in Utah's west desert

"Desolation Flats" is by Andrew Hunt.
"Desolation Flats" is by Andrew Hunt.

"DESOLATION FLATS," by Andrew Hunt, Minotaur Books, $26.99, 372 pages (f)

Set in the 1930s in Salt Lake City, Andrew Hunt's "Desolation Flats" begins with Salt Lake City police detective Art Oveson helping his cousin as he time-tests his race car at the Bonneville Salt Flats. While there, Oveson rescues a British racing legend named Clive Underhill from a fiery crash.

To show appreciation for his rescue, Underhill invites Oveson to join him at Salt Lake City's hottest night spot, the Coconut Grove. Oveson's acceptance of this invitation pulls him into a world of international intrigue as British and German teams compete to set the world land-speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats with the onset of World War II looming in the background.

Shortly after Oveson's late night at the Coconut Grove, Underhill's brother Nigel, a British citizen, is murdered while staying at the Hotel Utah. Oveson finds himself in over his head as he struggles to solve the mysterious death while defending the main suspect, a former member of the Salt Lake City Police Department and Oveson's old partner.

"Desolation Flats" is the third book in Hunt's prize-winning series about Oveson. The first two books in the series are "City of Saints," winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize, and his follow-up book, "A Killing in Zion."

Hunt's characters are full of surprises. Oveson is described as a humble member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Hunt uses this to set up conflict in Oveson's life. Most of this conflict stems from his line of work and his relationship with his family members.

Oveson's wife, Clara, a former high school teacher, has slipped into a depressive state after giving up her career to stay home with their three children. Her struggle to find meaning in her life and marriage adds frustration and challenges to Oveson's life. Unfortunately, these challenges come when Oveson can hardly afford to have his attention pulled away from his police duties.

Another main character Hunt details is the city of Salt Lake. The city is viewed through the eyes of outsiders who are major players in the developing conflict that will grow to become WWII. Oveson in particular is seen as naive about the world outside of Utah and the evil threat presented by the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

"Desolation Flats" is a well-written murder mystery full of characters facing both internal and external challenges. These challenges, while not insurmountable, are shown to be even more to difficult to overcome as the world seems to get more complicated with each passing minute.

This book contains harsh language and descriptions of sexual situations. It also contains detailed descriptions of violence and murder.

If you go …

What: Andrew Hunt book signing

When: Monday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East

Note: The signing line is for those who buy a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

Steve Larson is a founder of Information Alliance, a Utah-based data collection company. He currently serves as President of IA in addition to serving on several nonprofit boards. Steve spends his free time writing and training for marathons.