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City of Saints: A Mystery by Andrew Hunt
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250015792
Date: 30 October 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In Salt Lake City, Utah, 1930, an aspiring actress, Helen Kent Pfalzgraf, is found brutally murdered; her body driven over numerous times by her own vehicle. Soon afterwards, a suspect commits suicide. However, Deputy Art Oveson, a Mormon, isn't willing to close the case. As he continues his investigation, despite being hassled by his superiors, Art discovers a trail of dead bodies connected to the wealthy Pfalzgraf family. Soon, there are more murders and attempted murders as he finds himself and his friends targeted by a vindictive killer.

Andrew Hunt's City of Saints is an outstanding historical mystery. I can understand why it won the Tony Hillerman Prize, awarded annually for the best first mystery set in the Southwest. Hunt, who is a history professor in Waterloo, Ontario, made me feel as though I was actually living in the Salt Lake City of 1930. He describes the technology (or lack of), the dress, the customs, and the culture of the people in explicit detail without hindering the fast pacing. I remember my grandparents speaking about party lines, ice boxes and talkies. It was a time when families gathered around the table for dinner, gathered around the radio for entertainment, and gathered together on Sunday for church and grandma's delicious home cooking.

Art Oveson is a very unique protagonist and one can only hope to read more about him in future sequels. He's small, sickly, and weak, but he can be extremely brave and has the type of morality that can't be found in the twenty-first century. Art reminds me of the Biblical David who fought Goliath. In some ways, he is a type of Christ. When he was a child, he was actually declared dead, a victim of polio; however, he revived when he was on the verge of being buried. He never condemns Helen Kent Pfalzgraf even though she is a type of prostitute who exploited men; instead, he is determined to bring her killer to justice. Furthermore, he endures both spiritual and physical darkness.

Every righteous hero has to have an evil villain. In City of Saints, there are several villains that are highly despicable. Art is definitely outnumbered. Fortunately, he has a partner, the muscular, gruff, crass Roscoe Lund, and a journalist for Real Mystery Stories magazine, Seymour Considine, who aid him during his investigation. Most of the time, however, Art is a one-man operation who performs an extremely thorough investigation. He learns some startling facts about some of the prominent citizens of Salt Lake City that actually churned my stomach.

City of Saints is made more unique by the fact that it was inspired by an actual, unsolved murder occurring in Salt Lake City in 1930. Socialite Dorothy Dexter Moormeister, also a serial adulteress like Helen Kent Pfalzgraf, was brutally murdered. There were several suspects. Feeling that the Utah police were incompetent, Dorothy's husband hired a private detective who failed to find her killer. Eventually, the case was swept under the rug, and forgotten when it was soon followed by a string of unsolved homicides and the Lindberg Kidnapping case. Initially, Hunt wanted to write a non-fiction book based on Moormeister's murder; however, because of a lack of recorded material, he decided to fictionalize the case.

Lovers of fast-paced historical noir will definitely want to read Andrew Hunt's superb City of Saints. Its unique hero, unusual locale, high body count, and intriguing mystery make it a must read. City of Saints is the best historical mystery I've read since D.E. Johnson's Detroit Breakdown, which is set inside the nightmarish world of a turn-of-the-century insane asylum, Eloise Hospital. Many fans of historical mystery are clamoring for Andrew Hunt to write a sequel to City of Saints. I am one of them because there is still one mystery that remains unsolved: In 1914, who murdered Art's father who was assistant chief of the Salt Lake City Police Department?

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