26 August 2007

Four-year-old reviews of J. A. Jance mysteries

When we returned from our wonderful jaunt to the UK, we began resuming some of our old routines. One bit of that routine was spending Labor Day weekends at the little cabin called Sidetrack. We had been away from it for over 5 weeks.

A result of my absence (since I do most of the "yard work") was that the patio was overgrown with little green and purple clover. Since we've decided that anything growing in the gravel of the patio was a weed, I set out to weed the patio.

On Saturday, I rubbed my eyes while weeding. My eyes did not like whatever plant juices were on my hands. Even after I rinsed out my swollen, red, and itchy eyes, I was uncomfortable and a bit worried. That was my excuse for sitting on the deck reading for the next 24 hours. (By the time I went home I was obviously on the mend.)

The book I picked up was one of the many around Sidetrack that await times like this. It was Skeleton Canyon by J. A. Jance. Nancy had read it and left it on one of the groaning Sidetrack bookshelves. (There are also a couple under-bed boxes full of books.)

I have now read several of Jance's books and liked them. I am glad I read this one too. This may be the best one for my money. It's sort of a Goldilocks book. The plot is neither simplistic nor overwrought. The pace of story telling is just right. There are some, but not too many side and back stories. The characters don't do stupid things, but they aren't passive. The ending contains one not quite believalbe "happy ever after" element, but I can ignore that with everything else so well done. I might also wish for a bit more Hillerman-like rhapsodizing about the natural setting of southern Arizona, but I just read some of that in Hillerman's last book.

J. A. Jance is a very successful mystery writer. Her petite Sheriff Joanna Brady is a well-known creation. Skeleton Canyon is about tragedy, revenge, self-denying sacrifice, arrogance, hubris, racism, smuggling, teenage romance, and police brutality. If you haven't read any of Jance's books, this may be one to start with. As always, your dissenting or concurring opinions are not only welcome here, they're needed.

After that experience, the next time I was at Sidetrack I picked up another Jance novel, Name Withheld. This is evidently part of a series of mysteries about a Seattle homicide detective named J. P. Beaumont. There were a dozen other mysteries listed next to the title page of this 1996 novel.

Name Withheld was a compelling book to read. The story is as well-paced and well-told as the story in Skeleton Canyon. I started to read it during a cool windy day at Little Blake Lake. Even though it got to be 11:00 PM, I didn't want to put it down. However, Nancy and David turned out the lights and were asleep. I finished it the morning of the first frost of the season. The plot was a nicely constructed package nefarious activity.

Maybe I was just bored by being confined by the weather. This was not as good as Skeleton Canyon and the characters weren't as well drawn. Nearly everything was plausible. Well, the fact that star of the show J. P. Beaumont was richer than Croeses and drove around in a Porsche worth several years' of a detective's salary was a little hard to accept. But if you can accept things like Perry Mason's winning streak, you can probably adjust to Beaumont's Porsche and penthouse. I think I've read enough J. A. Jance for awhile, but her books are worth a look or two.

No comments: