Downfall by J.A. Jance
Never mind that New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance splits her time between Bellevue and Tucson. Whether she’s writing about Seattle homicide detective J.P. Beaumont or Bisbee (Arizona) Sheriff Joanna Brady, we in the Pacific Northwest consider Jance one of our own.
And with “Downfall,” her latest installment in the Joanna Brady series that is just now hitting the bookstores, Jance is reciprocating that loyalty by making a dozen stops throughout the Pacific Northwest during her book tour. Over the next month, she’ll be appearing at retirement communities, bookstores, libraries, and the Celebrating Women Expo sponsored by Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, where she’ll serve as keynote speaker.
Domestic violence is a topic that Joanna has to deal with all too often in her role as chief law enforcement officer of Cochise County. But in “Downfall,” that isn’t all that is on her mind. Just a few weeks before this novel take place, she solved a double homicide case that was very personal to her – the episode covered in Jance’s previous novella, “Random Acts.”
The funeral hasn’t even taken place for the victims in that book when another double homicide lands in her lap.
The bodies of two women have been found outside of a town at the base of a cliff. At first it isn’t clear whether this is the result of an accident, a suicide pact, a murder-suicide or something else.
Once the bodies are identified (one is a Ph.D. student specializing in cactuses, and the other is a popular high school debate teacher who is married to a fundamentalist minister), the first thing that becomes clear is that because the victims come from different counties, the case involves multiple jurisdictions. This could be a logistical nightmare, except that Joanna gets to work with a former colleague whom she likes and trusts. It also means that Joanna’s financially strapped department is going to get more resources from neighboring law enforcement agencies, as well as from the feds.
But Joanna has some other things to juggle, too: the aforementioned impending funeral, along with the back-to-school season for her kindergarten-age son and her college-age daughter. She’s pregnant for a third time. And she’s running for re-election.
Jance covers all this territory in a fast-paced 400 pages. Readers will scarcely feel the length, although there are just a few redundancies – repetitive eulogies, for example. But for the most part, the wide array of law enforcement and criminal justice personnel, witnesses, suspects, nosy reporters and red herrings keeps the story lively.
Readers familiar with the Joanna Brady series know that Joanna’s own family dynamics will also come into play. Modern families can be complicated, and this one is no different, although Joanna’s second husband, Butch, is just a little too darn ideal. (He cooks! He tends to the kids! He entertains unexpected guests with aplomb!)
Ah, well – maybe mixing a little domestic fantasy into Joanna’s world of adrenaline-pumping mayhem isn’t such a bad idea.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com