City of Saints by Andrew Hunt is a historical police procedural set in the 1930s in Salt Lake City (available October 30, 2012).
Andrew Hunt may be as green to writing mysteries as his lead character, Deputy Sheriff Art Oveson, is to solving them, but you’d never know it by his debut mystery novel, City of Saints.
Hunt combines history and mystery with a touch of humor and comes out with a surefire hit. He gives you the feeling of going back in time to an era when Salt Lake City (aka the City of Saints) was just sprouting wings. There are a lot of references to the times like double-breasted suits, Buster Brown shoes, Black Jack chewing gum, elevator boys, Model T automobiles, the polio epidemic, pulp rags, and my own favorite: party lines.
Leaning back in my swivel chair, I lifted the receiver on the candlestick telephone and raised the transmitter to my mouth. The party line popped with static, but I heard the operator’s voice. “Number, please?”
“Operator, ring State nine-ninety-eight.”
“Now ringing. Please hold the line.”
Party line chatter: “I’m going to make it up to the dry goods store on Wednesday . . .” “Yes, our water line froze down here late last night and now it’s leaking everywhere . . .” “We’re hoping it’ll be a warmer March than it was last year . . .” “Sorry, LaMarr told me you was comin’ next Tuesday . . .”
More veering into party lines. “What time are you coming over tonight?” “Half past six. Will the supper still be warm?” “I’m not even sure it’ll be done by then.” I sighed. I hated hearing other people’s conversations, but such was the world of long-distance telephone calling. I had to keep the receiver pressed against my ear so I wouldn’t miss King if he came on, which made eavesdropping a necessary evil. “How hot is it out there?” “I think we broke fifty.”
I rolled my eyes, opened my desk drawer, took out a freshly sharpened pencil, and began doodling on a pad of paper. Outhouses were my specialty.
The secretary’s high voice came on. “Deputy, are you still there?”
“Sorry for the long wait. Here is Mr. King. I’m going to patch you through. You’ll hear a few clicks. Please do not hang up.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”
Three clicks sounded, followed by a dial tone. I slammed the receiver on the cradle and pushed the telephone aside. I felt like saying Sonofabitch! and throwing the telephone against the nearest wall. Restraint won out.
That last line, Restraint won out, refers to Deputy Art Oveson’s constant struggle as a devout Mormon to not give in to his urges to swear, smoke, drink, take bribes, or look the other way brought on by his surroundings. Not even a cup of coffee passes his lips. Oveson’s worst vice seems to be that he eats too much ice cream.
It’s no accident that Hunt chose a historical slant for his first crime novel. Hunt is a professor of U.S. history at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
The same goes for the novel’s location. Hunt is very familiar with Salt Lake City and Utah. He grew up in the area. This affinity for its history sparked him to delve deeper into the seedier side of those times.
This novel is as close to a true crime story as you can get. Hunt gives us a taste of a true crime based on an actual unsolved murder of a prominent socialite in 1930 Utah. He accomplishes this by using the same date as the actual murder for the main victim and his characters closely resemble the family and friends of the deceased, as well as the murder suspects.
In keeping true to realism in his novel, Hunt also uses a lot of Mormon references. At that time the Salt Lake City area was divided by Mormon followers and a lot of anti-Mormon citizens. Hunt makes being Mormon akin to being in a secret club where members greet each other with a wink and a handshake.
Through it all, Oveson rarely loses his cool but often “tosses his cookies.” Accident victims, morgue scenes, and the smell of rotting corpses have him unsure whether he has the guts literally or figuratively for the job.
I forced myself to look at her body, but I couldn’t for very long.
At my side now, Roscoe smirked at me. “She’s seen better days. You don’t look so good, either. What say we go outside, get some fresh air?”
“No. I’ve got to see her.”
With my eyes fixed on the row of light globes on the ceiling, I steeled myself to resume examining her. I tilted my head down and tried to take in the rest. One of her breasts had been torn clean off, and bones were showing in spots. She was missing some fingers, and her left foot was almost entirely severed.
I felt my partly digested breakfast surging up my throat like molten lava, and that’s when I turned to the sink and vomited in one violent heave as I grabbed porcelain and closed my eyes. It took a few seconds for me to catch my breath, and I felt Roscoe’s big hand patting me on the shoulder. A bitter taste coated my tongue.
“Sorry, fellas,” I said, my eyes closed, everything dark. “I guess I wasn’t ready."
I feel the author disagrees with the young deputy’s take on himself. Hunt has big plans for Special Deputy Art Oveson. He’s busy writing more books for this Mormon family man’s own series.
Cindy Kerschner is an avid mystery fan, freelance writer, and professional cook. You can learn about her through her website at http://www.cindysrecipesandwritings.com.
See al posts by Cindy Kerschner for Criminal Element.