Betsy Thornton lives in Bisbee, Arizona, where she works for the Cochise County Attorney's Victim Witness Program as a victim compensation advocate and a victim advocate.
Victim Advocate or Victim Witness? Chloe Newcomb defines her job in the County Attorney's office as "helping victims of violent crimes through the criminal justice system in any way I can." Actually, there's much more to that than meets the eye. The description of "victim" stretches to include not only the muggee or even the murderee. In Chloe's past experience the people she is assigned to help in "whatever way that she can" includes those affected by a disaster, even an innocent bystander who has witnessed the event. And since she moved to the small desert town of Dudley, Arizona, she learned very well that disasters aren't limited to the cities.
Chloe's current assignment is to notify the family of a local judge, who has disappeared, and whose body is subsequently found at the ruins of a deserted hotel in a ghost town near Dudley. She finds the family to be a living illustration of the description "dysfunctional." The widow seems to have been on the verge of collapse before her husband disappeared, her live-in mother is an evil-tongued shrew, losing no opportunity to worsen the atmosphere. The couple's daughter, away at college, has cut off all communication with her family (something Chloe can hardly blame her for), and the pre-teen son is a bewildered, angry child. A victim advocate doesn't seem to be what this bereaved family needs. However, Chloe feels she can stretch the definition somewhat and see what she can do to solve the mystery of the judge's murder --not only who killed him and why, but why in such strange circumstances? She has her own reasons as well - her friend Nate, a young journalist has disappeared from Dudley after telling Chloe that he had uncovered some information about the judge that would "blow this town apart." Now she fears for his life. Meanwhile, she is beginning to feel that she needs a victim advocate herself, because not only Nate, but her lover Craig has vanished. The county police are investigating the judge's death; it's Chloe's job to be her own victim's advocate, seek out the late judge's estranged daughter, and more important, locate lover Craig and friend Nate, both of whom, she learns have secrets of their own.
Thornton has been lauded for the quality of her writing, the reality of the atmosphere in her tales of the Arizona desert, the subtlety and solidity of her characters and the excitement of the action. Ghost Towns takes all of these one step higher.