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Queen of the Night: A Novel of Suspense by J.A. Jance
Cover Artist: Photos: Flower by John P. Schaefer; Sunset by Digital Vision/Jupiter Images.
Review by Don Metzler
William Morrow Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061239243
Date: 01 August 2010 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Dan paused long enough to extract his flashlight from a belt loop. As soon as he turned it on, he saw the first body. A woman, an Indian woman from the looks of her, lay face down on the path several feet ahead of him. Hurrying to her side, he knelt and felt for a pulse. There wasn’t one. He could see a small wound in the middle of her back, but under her he could see the pool of blood from an exit wound that had soaked into the dirt.

Ten feet down the path he came across the next body. This one, an Indian male who looked to be in his thirties, lay on his back. He’d been shot twice – once in the chest and once in the head. He, too, was dead.

The man had been dead for some time – long enough for most of the visible blood to dry. Dan knew that meant there was a good chance that the perpetrator had taken off, but maybe not. Just to be on the safe side, he didn’t holster his weapon.

The path rounded a looming clump of mesquite. There Dan found something that made no sense. The remains of a cloth-covered dining table and two chairs lay on the ground surrounded by a scatter of broken glassware, dishes, and silverware. Two still forms lay on either side of the fallen table....

Former bank manager Jonathan Southard has snapped. He lost his job several months ago, another casualty of the global financial meltdown. He will soon be losing his southern California McMansion, and his family as well. He is not supposed to know about the boyfriend that his wife Esther has waiting in the wings, but he does. So one June night, following a particularly ugly confrontation with Esther, he pulls from his desk drawer the gun he had purchased with the intention of turning it on himself, and instead uses it to end the lives of his wife and two young children. Then he sets out on a quest to find his estranged mother, who he knows is now living in Tucson, Arizona. For it is his mother, Jonathan believes, who is responsible for everything that has gone wrong in his life.

During his routine nighttime patrol, Border Patrol agent Dan Pardee stumbles onto the scene of Jonathan Southard's horrendous crime on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation in southern Arizona. Dan is half Apache and an army veteran, uniquely qualified for his membership in the elite Shadow Wolves division of the Border Patrol. He is also regularly tormented by nightmares of his wartime experiences in Iraq.

And while all of these events that are centered around Jonathan Southard's mission of vengeance are taking place, there are any number of other things going on in and around Tucson.

Diana Ladd Walker's latest novel has been rejected by her long-time publisher. Discouraged, Diana has lapsed into despondency, and has even been subject to strange hallucinations. Or are they hallucinations? She has lately been having conversations with people from her past. Andrew Carlisle, for example, the serial killer who had targeted her as a victim years earlier, but who had underestimated Diana's ability to fight back. As a result, Carlisle ended up in prison, and permanently disfigured by the hot grease that Diana had thrown into his face. Diana has also been visited by Max Cooper, her abusive stepfather, and Garrison Ladd, her ex-husband. The only trouble is, all of these people are dead. Is something paranormal happening here, or is Diana Ladd lapsing into senility and insanity?

And while Diana wrestles with these cogent fears as to what the future may hold for her, her husband Brandon, a retired law enforcement officer, has begun looking into a cold case that has been handed over to him by his old friend Geet Farrell, who is dying of cancer. The case involves the 1959 murder of an ASU coed while on spring break in San Diego. Geet has been pursuing leads in the case for years, and hopes that Brandon can follow the latest clues to finally solve that long-ago murder. Hopefully before Geet finally succumbs to the cancer.

Whew! That's a lot of things going on at once. And while author J.A. Jance is adept at maintaining a level of suspense and tension throughout the novel, her one downfall in my opinion is that she has too many things going on in this book. In the opening third of the book there were more characters than I was able to keep track of. I found myself continually having to flip back through the earlier pages to remind myself of who this or that person was. When a handful of them are finally killed off, the character count becomes somewhat easier for the reader to manage.

And that is the point in the book when Jance is at her best: after the crime, when the investigation is going into full swing. The tension builds as law enforcement officers Brian Fellows in Arizona and Alexandra Mumford in Southern California gradually begin to realize the connection of Jonathan Southard to the multiple homicides. The hunt is on for a killer who will undoubtedly kill again.

Then we reach the conclusion of Queen of the Night, and unfortunately Jance again disappoints.

She had introduced more subplots and threads of narrative than she has time or space to bring to satisfactory conclusions. So the reader is left with story lines that are either conveniently forgotten, or are summarily explained away in a few hasty sentences. It is a frustratingly anticlimactic ending to a novel that had built so much suspense in the middle third of the book.

Long-time fans of J.A. Jance will be more than willing to look past these flaws, and will undoubtedly find this novel entertaining and of value. After all, Jance possesses myriad strengths as a storyteller. Her characters are well-drawn, true-to-life and sympathetic, the colorful Arizona settings are delicious, and she has over the years honed a knack for building suspense.

But readers who are new to this author will probably not be best introduced to her work by this book.

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