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Book review: Salt Lake lawman investigates murder in 'City of Saints'

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 24 2012 2:30 p.m. MST

"CITY OF SAINTS," by Andrew Hunt, Minotaur Books, $24.99, 320 pages (f)

Salt Lake City in 1930 is the setting for Andrew Hunt's new mystery novel, “City of Saints.” Loosely based on the true murder of Salt Lake socialite Dorothy Dexter Moormeister in that same year, Hunt's novel imagines the intricate details that history has failed to leave us.

The story is narrated by Art Oveson, a by-the-book Salt Lake County deputy sheriff who is called in to investigate the brutal murder of Helen Pfalzgraf, a young Salt Lake socialite with ambitions of stardom in Hollywood. Oveson, a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, begins an investigation into the homicide with his partner, Roscoe Lund, a foul-mouthed former strikebreaker who holds nothing but contempt for Utah's dominant religion.

Oveson's investigation soon includes a diverse cast of characters, each of whom is a potential suspect. Was the murder committed by Pfalzgraf's husband, a prominent doctor with a potentially deadly secret; her lover, a dishonest mining executive involved in a blackmail scheme; a dashing Hollywood star who helped to promote her career; or someone else? To top it all off, Oveson's boss, Salt Lake County Sheriff Fred Cannon, wants the case solved as soon as possible in order to help his bid for re-election.

Hunt's first-person narrative in this gritty mystery is spot on and conjures up a disturbing portrait of Salt Lake's criminal underbelly in the midst of the Great Depression. The novel's pace is very good as Hunt, a former Salt Lake resident, deftly builds tension in a kinetic fashion, leading to a series of dynamic revelations, heart-pounding action and a climax that is nothing short of explosive. In short, this is a book you genuinely lament putting down.

The LDS religion offers atmosphere in this novel, with Hunt neither endorsing nor demonizing Mormons. Oveson is a man of faith who prefers ice cream to alcohol, silent brooding to swearing, and prayer to despair. Still, it does contain a good amount of profanity and offensive language from a few of the rougher characters and deals with adult themes.

If you go ...

What: Andrew Hunt book signing

When: Saturday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Cody K. Carlson has a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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