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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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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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