In 1968 a young bride from Texas uses her CIA-honed skills to catch the real killer when her husband lands in a Canadian jail for murdering the draft-resisting son of a United States senator.
This is the story El Dorado native Kay Orth Kendall tells in her second novel, “Desolation Row – An Austin Starr Mystery,” which was published in March.
The book is set during the Vietnam War era.
“I wanted to show what life was like for young women of that era – not the type that made headlines, the Hanoi Janes or Angela Davises, but the moderates who nonetheless got swept along by the tides of history during the turbulent sixties,” she said. “All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue and murder.”
Kendall said within the mystery genre, historical fiction is her favorite.
“Many authors locate their sleuths and their spymasters during the wars of the 20th century,” she said. “The two world wars and the Cold War all have hundreds of mysteries set during those times. The only large wars of the last century not ‘taken,’ not overrun with mysteries, occurred in Korea and Vietnam. The latter is a comparatively empty niche that I concluded needed to be filled with more mysteries – and I decided I was the one to do the filling.”
In the story, Austin Starr marries in 1968 when the Cold War is hot and the Vietnam War is raging, and the women’s movement is beating a far-distant drum. When David Starr protests the war by moving from Texas to Canada, she goes along. It is when she falls across the corpse of another draft resister who is enemies with David, police suspect David of murder. It is up to Austin to find the killer to save her marriage and eventually return to America.
Kendall said “Desolation Row” took her two years to complete. Her first book was not a mystery took her six years to write and is now “safely hidden in a drawer.”
“I love to write and especially enjoy rewriting,” she said. “Revision is a joy for me, but the first draft is always agony. Fiddling with words on a page and making them read just so is sheer pleasure.”
She said the most challenging part is coming up with the red herrings to be sprinkled throughout a mystery to keep the reader guessing.
Kendall, a 1963 graduate of El Dorado High School, will be holding a book signing at Watermark Books in Wichita at 7 p.m. Thursday.
She was born and raised in El Dorado, but her ties go back even further than that. Her mother, Kathryn Wagner Orth, was born on an oil lease outside El Dorado in 1918 and worked at the El Dorado Times in the 1960s as the society editor.
Page 2 of 2 - Kendall’s grandfather was John Herbert Wagner, whose work in the petroleum industry in Kansas is noted in the Kansas Oil Museum.
Kendall will be back in Kansas for her 50th class reunion in August.
“I haven’t been in Kansas since my last EHS reunion in 2003,” she said. “I love coming home, seeing all the people and places that are still so familiar to me. Catching up with what has happened in my classmates’ lives over the last ten years is like reading further chapters in the books of their lives. “
She also graduated from the University of Kansas in 1967 with a double major in English and Russian.
Kendall is now working on her second Austin Starr mystery, which she hopes to complete in a year, titled “Rainy Day Women.”
Kendall is an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, five house rabbits and spaniel, Wills.
Her book is available in paperback, as an e-book and as an audio book at all major online retailers and at Watermark Books. Find out more at www.kaykendallauthor.com.