Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review: Desert Heat by J.A. Jance

Title: Desert Heat
Author: J.A. Jance
Genre: Mystery (Contemporary)
Published: 1993
Sensuality: Subtle
Setting: Arizona
Series: Joanna Brady #1
Disclosure: Borrowed from Library

I've never read a J.A. Jance novel before, but I've been seeing her books around more and more, so I decided to give her a try. A review of her website led me to Desert Heat, the first book in her Joanna Brady series. The back cover synopsis is of a widow investigating her husband's death, and risking life and limb to track down the killer. That's not really how the story goes down, but I was still kept fairly entertained.

Andy Brady is a Deputy Sheriff with the Cochise County Sheriff's Department in rural Brisbee, Arizona, and is running for sheriff's office. When he doesn't come home the night of their 10th anniversary, Joanna senses trouble and goes searching for him. She finds him on the side of the road, dying from a gunshot wound to the stomach. She gets help and Andy is airlifted to the hospital in Tucson.

After going through surgery, it looks like Andy may recover, but there's a possibility of paralysis. Joanna holds a vigil at the hospital, sitting with him for as long as the staff will allow. Unfortunately, the killer learns that Andy isn't dead, comes to the hospital to finish the job, and is successful in killing Andy.

Complicating matters is that the Sheriff's Department is investigating Andy's death as a suicide, and the DEA is claiming that he was involved in the illegal drug trade though Cochise County. Joanna is outraged by these claims, but is having trouble getting anyone to listen to her. She decides that she is going to prove that Andy was murdered and restore his good name.

Essentially this book was a setup for the rest of the series. Probably the first third of the novel involves discovering Andy's body and Joanna's vigil at the hospital. Next we move on to her planning his funeral, and the aftermath that she and their daughter have to deal with. It's not until the very end that the real action takes place.

The other problem I had was that Joanna doesn't ever do any investigating. She talks a lot about proving her husband was murdered, but doesn't actually do anything about it. Rather, the whole case is solved based on the actions of a secondary character, and Joanna is given all the credit in the end.

I really would have preferred this book to be more stand-alone than just the setup for the rest of the series. At the end of the book there are still unanswered questions surrounding Andy's death and his actions prior to his death. These issues should have been resolved for the reader, but the focus seemed to be on setting it up for Joanna to run for sheriff in the next book. This big push for her to run didn't make sense to me. She's only 28 years old, doesn't have any background in law enforcement or the military, and really the only thing she did to solve her husband's case was to insist he didn't commit suicide.

Despite my problems with the plot, the story moved along at a fairly decent clip, and I was never bored. While the identity of the killer is never in question--the reader knows from page one--there was a good amount of suspense involving the aforementioned secondary character. It was this secondary character's story that I found the most interesting, and it was probably the main reason I kept reading. Add in some interesting tidbits about the case that come to light throughout the story, and I was kept fairly entertained.

In the end though, I expect the protagonists of mystery series to, you know, actually solve the mystery instead of whining about it while others do it for them. I know, I'm strange that way. I especially can't buy into the questionable logic that's supposed to make Joanna a qualified candidate for sheriff, either. Which is disappointing because I was really looking forward to a good mystery series with a female sheriff protagonist. So, overall, while the book was fairly enjoyable, the issues I had prevent me from recommending it, and will likely prevent me from reading more of this series.

Grade: C+


Lynn Spencer said...

I kinda liked the Joanna Brady books, but I had trouble seeing her as great sheriff material, too, and never finished the series. I like Jance's other series much better.

Am missing you at book club today since we're doing a contemp and I know that's right up your alley!

Katie Mack said...

Lynn - I've actually been following the WTT discussion as best I can -- it's probably my all-time fave romance -- but my Internet connection is too slow to let me participate. By the time my comment loaded, everyone would have moved on!

I've been thinking about trying Jance's other series, since hopefully I won't have the same problems I had with the setup of this one.

Susan said...

Thank you. Great review. Who is the secondary character? After reading your review, although this is a pick for my Murder Mystery Book Club, I have decided not to read it because it sounds much too predictable. And who is the killer?