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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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