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Downfall by J A Jance

Once again J.A. Jance has produced a suspenseful and timely police procedural in the “Brady Novel of Suspense” series.  “Downfall” is about an investigation by Sheriff Joanna Brady and her Cochise County (AZ) Sheriff Department into a double homicide that appears to be instigated by a high school teacher’s statutory rape of one or more teenage boy student.  The reactions of the parents and students to the realization that a pedophile has been teaching at the school for years and getting away with seducing teenage boys run the gamut from parents blaming the boy more than the teacher to outrage and a desire to sue the school for not doing something to stop this behavior.  Some parents wish they had gotten to the teacher first before her actual killer.

This story about a teacher pedophile takes place amid Joanna’s own personal tragedy in that she has just lost her mother and step-father to a highway sharp-shooter and is also several months pregnant with a baby girl. She is supposed to be taking time off to plan and host a funeral service for Eleanor and George when the deaths of two women who appear to have been pushed off a cliff occurs.  The book contains some poignant moments where Joanna comes to a better understanding about her mother and the reasons why Eleanor has always been so hard on her ambitious tomboy of a daughter.  Longtime readers of the Brady series will appreciate the closure Joanna is able to put on this complex relationship with her mother and will also admire the ingenuity Brady and her staff use to solve the mystery of the double-murder and Joanna’s own kidnapping.  To add to the complexity there is another murder in the mix, the death by golf club of a man who appears to also have been poisoned with arsenic by his wife.  That investigation raises the question of how far the DA should go to offer a reduced sentence just to settle when it appears likely the murder was premeditated.  Unfortunately, there is little the sheriff can do once the police have turned the case over to the DA, other that to offer her two-cents worth.

As always, the action is so suspenseful it was hard to put down “Downfall” until the very last page.

Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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Remains of Innocence by J A Jance

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.

Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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Moving Target by J.A. Jance

Moving Target” is the 9th in Jance’s Ali Reynolds Mysteries series and is one of the most satisfying in the Reynolds saga.  With this book the major characters have reached pretty complete development.  Ali knows what she wants in her life and is going for it.  Her butler-companion, Leland also becomes a focus of the “Moving Target” storyline and we learn a lot more about him and where he comes from.  Sister Anselm is back and helps to shape the story of a young fire victim and amputee who’s life is in danger because he won’t give up a computer program he wrote to hack into computers without being discovered.  As usual, Jance has two or three major themes all going at one time and several murders and kidnappings to keep the suspense constantly at a high level.

Ali and Leland go to England to visit Leland’s nephew and possibly reconcile with his sisters-in-law and other relatives.  Ali decides it is a good opportunity to shop for a wedding dress for her Christmastime wedding to B. Simpson, the computer security consultant.  At the same time, a young man who B.’s company helped to put into prison for breaking into his high school’s computer system is injured in a fire and a fall from a ladder while he is decorating a Christmas tree in the prison’s recreation center.  B. gets involved because the fire seems suspicious and B. believes the boy got a raw deal by being given the maximum sentence for doing something lots of kids try. Besides, the young man has created a computer program that B. would very much like to buy.  It seems that other computer companies would just like to steal the program from the young man.  As the story unfolds it appears that people who try to help the young man, Lance, are threatened or kidnapped, and the police are slow to respond to the threat.  B. makes sure Sister Anselm is put in place as a patient advocate to keep Lance safe while he is hospitalized with his injuries.

Meanwhile, back in England, Leland finds out that his father was murdered 30 years before and apparently was willing to accept the fact that Leland is gay.  For all those years Leland had believed that his father disowned him because of his sexual orientation.  Ali helps to investigate who was really involved in killing Leland’s father and disparaging Leland’s name within the family ranks.

Moving Target” displays J.A. Jance’s usual complex plots and twists and turns in the storyline to keep the reader thoroughly engrossed.

Liz Nichols


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Deadly Stakes by J.A. Jance

Deadly Stakes” is number 8 in the “Ali Reynolds Mysteries” series.  This series has been steadily growing on me since Jance introduced her new sleuth several years ago.  Reynolds is a former television news personality who was fired from her job as a Los Angeles news anchor about the same time she is divorced by her news executive husband.  She moves back to Sedona with her son to work with her parents in their diner.  Along the way she meets B. Simpson, an independently wealthy security company owner, who helps her crack a number of cases.  For several books in the series she waffles between her affection for the local sheriff and B, but has finally settled on the security mogul.  After Ali’s parents retire from the diner she settles into life with B. and being the executive director of a scholarship fund for underprivileged girls.  Technically, she can’t accept sleuthing assignments because that would require a PI license, but she can work undercover as a journalist who is looking for leads on a story, and that is the cover she uses in “Deadly Stakes.”

In this tale a divorcee is found nearly dead by a teenager who has been led to the location by his estranged father.  A.J. Sanders’ dad is a parolee who did a long stint in a federal penitentiary after helping a group of his friends counterfeit some cash.  James Sanders lives and works at a half-way house in the Las Vegas area.  On A.J.’s 16th birthday he presents the boy with a nice used car and the following year he sends A.J. a secret note with instructions on where to find a treasure that James, the dad, buried in the desert outside of Phoenix where A. J. and his mother live.  A. J. knows his mother would not approve, so he keeps secret the fact that he ditches school in order to go dig up the treasure. One mystery to crack is to determine where James got the money to give to his son.  Another is to determine whether he was responsible for the hit on Gemma Ralston and perhaps got the money for killing her.  A.J. finds the nearly dead Gemma Ralston where the treasure should be.  He later learns that nearby his dad is found dead of a bullet wound slumped over the steering wheel of a car.  No one knows if the two murders are related, but Gemma’s ex-husband and his current girl friend are accused of her murder.  The girl friend’s mom hires Ali to find evidence to exonerate her daughter.  In the course of interviewing people who might know something about the Ralston murder, Ali interviews A. J. and his mom, as well as the mother and sister of Dr. Chip Ralston, one of the suspects, and a number of other people who saw the various players in this drama on the day Gemma was abducted and killed and the day James died as well.

As usual, Jance’s plot is full of twists and turns.  There are lots of details placed either to help the reader figure out who the real killer, or killers, is/are or to bury the obvious in so much detail as to make it more difficult to sort things out.  It is easy to get carried along by a Jance story, and this one is no exception.

Jance fans will find “Deadly Stakes” up to this author’s high standards of storytelling.

Liz Nichols

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Fatal Error by J.A. Jance

Anyone who has read my posts for awhile will realize that I am a fan of J.A. Jance’s mystery series. She is among the best American mystery storytellers of all time. I have read almost every mystery she has written with the exception of some of the early J.P Beaumont mysteries and I can think of only one that didn’t move me.

What makes Jance a master of her craft is that she makes her characters so multi-dimensional and her plots so suspenseful and complex that the reader literally feels like they are a part of the story. The reader quickly begins to care about the protagonist and, often the victims and the friends and family members of the protagonist and the victim. She creates a world that the reader is anxious to get back to in the next installment. That next book often starts right where the last novel left off, so the saga continues just like a conversation with an old friend.

The Ali Reynolds Mysteries features a former Los Angeles news anchor, Ali Reynolds, who is replaced at the same time by her studio and her two-timing husband, a TV news executive. She returns to her roots in Sedona, AZ to work at her parents’ diner, and later to serve as the Media Specialist for the local county sheriff’s office. She also starts a relationship with a computer and security mogul who lives in Sedona, B. Simpson.

Fatal Error” starts out with Ali’s successful completion of the Arizona Police Academy training, but when she returns to Sedona she discovers that state budget cuts have eliminated her job, and she goes back to helping out at the cafe while her parents go on a Caribbean cruise and B. heads all over the world on his business.

A visit from an old friend from her broadcaster days, Brenda Riley, and Brenda’s subsequent disappearance, causes Ali to use the services of B’s top researcher to figure out where she might be. Ali knows that she has been investigating a former online love interest and the information that Ali discovers from B.’s guy at High Noon Enterprises confirm that the man has been cyberstalking.

The book not only explores cyberstalking, but also police academy training and male-female rookie rivalry, police rules of evidence, hospice care, kidnapping, murder, illicit uses of UAV drones, and many other themes. There are many twists and turns that make it hard for the reader to put the book down.

“Fatal Error” is one of the most absorbing mysteries of one of the world’s best mystery writers. Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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Fire and Ice by J.A. Jance

I am a great fan of J.A. Jance, largely because of her very three-dimensional Joanna Brady character.  The sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona, Joanna Brady, almost seems like a real person, and not the figment of a very fertile imagination.  I like how Jance has explored Brady’s life and work in a holistic way so that we get to know how she is feeling and what she is thinking in all aspects of her life.  We also get to know her family, friends, work mates and community very, very well. 

By contrast, I have never really gotten in to Jance’s J.P. Beaumont character, Beaumont is a detective with the Seattle Homicide Investigative Team (unfortunately abbreviated SHIT) working for a lead investigator named Harry I. Ball. That, I have to admit, raised my interest in J.P. and his wife-partner Mel. There is a sense of humor in Beaumont and his escapades that often eludes the very serious Joanna Brady and her crew at the Cochise County Justice Center.

This book is different from the other combined Beaumont-Brady mysteries.  This time it is not just a visitor hanging out in the other character’s book.  The book is fully integrated with chapters that relate to each character.  When the storyteller is Beaumont, then the story is told from his perspective in the first person. When the storyline takes us to Arizona, the viewpoint is from a third person narrator.  I was surprised at how well these two perspectives meshed and helped to keep the context straight for the reader.

Basically, the story follows a series of murders in Washington of women who are burned beyond recognition in tarps.  A mistake on the part of the killer of the latest victim leads to her identification as the sister of Cochise County detective, Jaime Carbajol and the crime eventually encompasses a drug cartel that extends throughout the western U.S. and northern Mexico.

While it took me awhile to warm up to the characters and the style that makes up the J.P. Beaumont series, I soon began to appreciate the contrast in style and viewpoint in following up on the same story from two locations and with two different investigative teams.  In the end the plot comes together in a well executed whole and the book very nicely marries two different sets of characters and scenes very deftly as only J.A. Jance could do.

Liz Nichols

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