Diamond in the Desert: A Hope Diamond Mystery is a thrilling whodunnit with a little touch of the magical; Karen Gilleland brings a charming originality to the mystery genre.
Diamond in the Desert is the first book in the Hope Diamond mystery series. Hope is a tenacious security- guard-turned-sleuth who has travelled to a desert in the Navajo Nation to look after four rich women who harbour no shortage of secrets. Soon after she arrives, however, one of the women’s aides is found dead in her hotel room at the Secret Sands Resort, and Hope must figure out who among the remaining women is the killer — all while continuing to protect them in the meantime. If this doesn’t make Hope’s job complicated enough, add to that the lingering presence of the dead woman’s spirit and the less-than- cordial interference from FBI agent Matt Dennison, who has been sent to solve the case. In the middle of the desert, Hope must wade through deception and rising tensions to discover the truth and reveal the killer.

There’s a lot to love about this exciting story. Gilleland has quite a knack for building suspense and keeping the reader on their toes. Hope sifts through one red herring after another, and, each time we think she’s on to something, readers are hit with yet another revelatory bombshell that flips our expectations upside down and heightens the tension of the story. At the same time, the interpersonal dynamics between the characters bring a different kind of tension to the table, and Gilleland knows exactly how to tap into this interplay to keep readers turning pages. Gilleland’s ability to bring the setting to life in her narrative is also astounding. Between the Native American culture and traditions weaved into the story and her mesmerizing scenic descriptions of the desert, she creates a sense of place that shapes the tone of the story and becomes ever-present in the book.

Of all these qualities that Gilleland executes so well in Diamond in the Desert, it is her characters that stand out the most. Hope Diamond is a strong female lead who is as gentle and caring as she is intrepid, transcending gendered tropes that lean too far in either direction. She isn’t perfect, but she is easy to root for; in short, she is human. But she doesn’t carry the book on her own either. All of Gilleland’s characters offer us something unique and intriguing. In some cases, these peculiarities hint subtly at their guilt while, at the very least, they contribute a richness to the events unfolding at the Secret Sands Resorts, piquing the reader’s curiosity at every turn. It’s a complicated narrative that relies more on suspense than heart- pounding action, but all in all, Diamond in the Desert is a well-rounded, delightful whodunnit that will leave readers itching for the next instalment.

Diamond in the Desert is an addictive read; fans of the mystery genre will be treated to a renewed sense of awe for how stories are told.