Debut novel spotlights Salt Lake City, pits Mormon cop against criminals

Sun SentinelDecember 8, 2012 

"City of Saints" by Andrew Hunt.

  • Fiction City of Saints Andrew Hunt Minotaur, 336 pages

Salt Lake City in 1930 was a fast-growing town with big-city concerns, dominated by the striking divisions between the wealthy and the middle class, and between Mormons and non-Mormons.

This is a mesmerizing setting for “City of Saints.” Andrew Hunt steeps his debut in the history of the Salt Lake City area. Hunt also explores how a person with a deep religious faith lives in an increasingly secular world. Hunt skillfully weaves all that and more into this first-class mystery.

Art Oveson is a young Salt Lake County deputy who also is a loving family man and a committed Mormon. He is haunted by the unsolved murder of his father, a decorated policeman who was being groomed to be Salt Lake City’s police chief.

Art and his partner, Roscoe Lund, become involved with the high-profile murder investigation of Helen Pfalzgraf, wife of the area’s most politically connected doctor. The case takes them into some of the city’s most prominent homes and into back alleys as they learn surprising dark secrets about Salt Lake City. The two also must navigate around the unscrupulous sheriff who is running for re-election.

Hunt creates a highly believable, three-dimensional hero in Art, whose religious beliefs require him to be concerned with the poor and the exploited. He and Roscoe have an uneasy relationship until Art realizes that he sometimes needs his partner’s rage to fight crime.

“City of Saints,” a local nickname for Salt Lake City, is the fourth novel to win the Tony Hillerman Prize designed to find unpublished authors whose novels are set in the Southwest. The prize has garnered a reputation for introducing excellent authors, such as Hunt, whose debut respects the memory of the late Hillerman, who died in 2008.

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