Those of you who have read my blog regularly know I am a fan of J.A. Jance. I particularly like the Brady Novel of Suspense series, based on Jance’s fictional sheriff of Cochise County, AZ, Joanna Brady. “Remains of Innocence” picks up the Brady story seven years in to her employment as the county’s elected sheriff. Even though she continues to have a small staff she has evolved over the years into an effective team player, well respected by other emergency services in Cochise County and within Arizona as a whole. She works effectively with the fire department’s emergency service teams, with the chief of the Bisbee police department and others. In earlier books so much of each plot had to do with how Joanna would gain the trust of her own staff and of the various other departments within county and city government. She is no longer an outsider with limited credibility.
In “Remains of Innocence” Jance very cleverly builds murder cases on opposite ends of the country and brings them together into a suspenseful climax in Brady’s home territory. First, the mother of a young woman in Great Barrington, MA has to be hospitalized and when she dies the daughter, Liza Machett, sets to work cleaning out their home of the mess created by her hoarder of a mother. Liza discovers that her mother has hidden some $150,000 in cash over the last 30 years in hundreds of books and magazines. Liza no more than gathers all that up when she gets a cryptic message from one of the guests at her mother’s funeral that people her dad worked with when he drove a bread truck know what she has and will not forget that her dad cheated them. She finds out from her boss that the dad who disappeared years before had worked for the Boston organized crime. Soon, the house is burned down, and Liza’s boss helps her to escape via an “underground railway” put together for abused women. As she heads across the country on an interesting, clandestine trip with a variety of truckers people back home start being tortured and killed, including the man who gave Liza the first warning and her boss. She wonders what her hidden stash of cash has wrought on everyone she comes in contact with.
Meanwhile, in Bisbee, AZ Joanna is cooperating with the police chief on an investigation of the apparent murder of a mentally disabled man who is the foster son of two local coffee shop owners, all friends of Joanna’s. The new medical examiner happens to be the brother of Liza Machett, and unbeknownst to anyone else, Liza is on her way across the country to consult with her brother about what she should do with the ill-gotten money her mother had hidden all these years. By the time Liza got to Bisbee, however, her brother had also been tortured and murdered. Joanna has two murders to solve, while at the other end of the country a detective in Great Barrington is working on at least two more murders. Are all of these connected or separate?
Jance has a wonderful storytelling ability with a simple, descriptive style that drills right into the hearts and minds of her heroine, the victims, and often also the perpetrators. It is easy to get involved in each case and to almost feel as a reader as if you are investigating the case right alongside Joanna Brady. “Remains of Innocence” is no exception, and, in fact, is one of the most suspenseful of Jance’s offerings.