Desert Kill Switch
A Nostalgia City Mystery – Book 2
By Mark S. Bacon
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
On an empty desert road, stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming finds a bullet-riddled body next to a vintage mint-condition 1970s Pontiac Firebird. When he returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies: no car, no body. Does the answer lie in Nostalgia City, the retro theme park where Lyle works?
Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Reno, Nevada, on park business when she gets mixed up with a sleazy Las Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” and GPS trackers into the cars he sells to low-income buyers. Miss a payment—sometimes by as little as a few days—and your car is dead. Maybe you are, too.
When Kate’s accused of murder in Reno, Lyle rushes to help his blonde not-quite-girlfriend. Kate and Lyle plow through a deadly tangle of suspects and motives, hitting one dead end after another, as they struggle to exonerate Kate, catch a blackmailer, save a witness’s life, and find the missing car and corpse.
Desert Kill Switch is the second novel in this mystery series set in Nostalgia City, an Arizona theme park that re-creates—in every detail—a small town as it would have appeared in the mid-1970s. (from Goodreads)
What a great idea – Nostalgia City in Northern Arizona! Even though much of the novel takes place in Reno and Las Vegas, Nostalgia City is a throwback to the 1970’s and muscle cars amidst Northern Arizona splendour, and is the home base for Lyle and Kate. The author shares vivid descriptions of the desert and mountains, and defines characters that one can easily invest in. The mystery itself is full of switchback trails that dares the reader to catch up and solve it.
Lyle had been on a drive with his daughter, an ASU student, when he saw a blue Firebird parked off the road in the desert with a body sitting next to it, a young man who had been shot. He took his daughter back to her car and returned to that section of the road to meet with Rey, the Undersheriff for San Navarro County. Twenty minutes later, the car, the body, everything related to the scene including tire tracks were gone. Even tire tracks of where Lyle had pulled out were either gone or obliterated by the sheriff’s men turning around. Sure, he had to leave the Phoenix PD as the stress of too many years, too many murders became too much, and driving a taxi for Nostalgia City visitors was a relief. But a disappearing car? Someone in Nostalgia City had to know about the 70’s vintage automobile.
Kate, head of PR for Nostalgia City, and her assistant for the Rockin Summer Days (RSD) event in Reno had set up their booth. It is an auto show of serious collectors of classic cars that attracts age groups of people who appreciate Nostalgia City, the most expensive little resort in the Southwest. Kate runs into people associated with RSD, however, who are trying to tear apart RSD to make the event more profitable for themselves.
One of the journalists Kate knew when she did PR in Vegas for the casino industry ran a blog suggesting Nostalgia City might be in town to pull the event from Reno and move it to Arizona. She met some of the RSD board members. Al Busick is the most visible, coming to her booth to berate her. She tries to push him away when his finger repeated pounded into her chest, and he tripped and fell and was even more upset.
When Kate went to the RSD office to pick up an envelope of marketing data, the door was unlocked, and the only person in the office was Busick himself. He had been stabbed repeatedly with the knife used to cut a celebratory cake. She tries to call 911, the police enter and tried to arrest her for the murder. Nostalgia City owner sends Lyle to Reno to help her, as they made an excellent investigating team in the past.
This novel reaches out and grabs the reader from the beginning – from the car and bullet-ridden body disappearing to the non-stop action in Reno and Vegas. Lyle and Kate are both very likable people with whom readers can empathize. The reader is introduced to many of the RSD board members, each with their own agendas and backgrounds. Detective Polhouse in Reno seems ready to declare Kate guilty, lock the cell and toss out the key, and Kate knows the only way she can find the real killer is to go “off the grid”, not something a lady of her almost 6’ height can easily do.
She and Lyle talk with people and learn more and more of the unsavory business practices Busick engaged in, not the least of which was including a “kill switch” on vehicles in case the owner was at all late on their payment. The vehicle simply wouldn’t start until the payment was made, causing the death of at least one tiny child needing hospitalization. There are many suspects, from his stepson to members of RSD to the women he ran around with outside his marriage. His widow actually commended Kate if she were his killer!
There are several plot twists that kept this reader guessing, with well-defined characters and a fast-moving story that will be appreciated by collectible car enthusiasts, those who love the Arizona deserts, and well-written cozy mysteries. The end is a complete surprise, not only regarding the real killer(s) but also how the initial mystery with the Firebird is resolved. I highly recommend this delightful high desert novel!