Beaumont's Onboard for Another Chilling Ride
After J. A. Jance's major departure with her previous book, the chilling thriller Kiss of the Bees, the bestselling author returns to her immensely popular J. P. Beaumont series with the fresh and often funny Birds of Prey. Fans will delight in this latest entry in the life of retired homicide detective Beaumont, as he takes a cruise into mayhem and comes face to face with cold-blooded murder once again.
At his 87-year-old grandmother's urging, Beaumont decides to chaperone her and her new husband on their honeymoon cruise to Alaska. Beaumont is initially reticent to do so, and he only becomes more uncomfortable when he meets with a group of four middle-aged divorcées led by the eminent and abrasive Margaret Featherman. Margaret is out to ruin a shipboard conference where her ex-husband, Dr. Harrison Featherman, is unveiling a new treatment to save the lives of brain seizure victims.
When Margaret Featherman disappears the FBI begins an investigation and ask for Beaumont's help. A secular humanist group called Leave It to God believes that nobody has the right to prolong someone's life because it is contrary to God's will. To that end, several doctors have been murdered, as well as their patients who became healthy again. Beaumont joins the FBI in trying to save Dr. Featherman's life and those of his patients even while he explores what really happened to Margaret.
Birds of Prey is a fast-paced, extremely readable novel. Although there's a brief prologue featuring a murder, the catalyst bit of foul play doesn't occur until 80 pages into the story, giving Jance the time and space to fully flesh out the members of her cast. The author makes the worthwhile effort to three-dimensionalize even secondary characters so that they become a great deal more than stock figures used only to advance the mystery.
The cruise ship setting is claustrophobic enough to add a certain raw edge of suspense to the plot as a killer lurks onboard. The concept of the LITG group is terrifying in its implications and used with great effectiveness as a sort of indistinct danger always threatening to encompass innocents. In Birds of Prey Jance manages to use this variety of elements to give us a novel of both humor and significance. Here readers will find a dash of mayhem, authentic dialogue, and plenty of sardonic wit to keep them enthralled.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of eight novels, including Hexes, Shards, and his Felicity Grove mystery series, consisting of The Dead Past and Sorrow's Crown. He has sold more than 100 stories to the anthologies Future Crimes, Bad News, The Conspiracy Files, and Best of the American West II. An omnibus collection of 40 stories titled Deep into That Darkness Peering is also available. Tom divides his time between New York City and Estes Park, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
The blonde fixed me with an appraising eye that left me feeling as defenseless as a dead frog spread-eagled on some high school biology student's dissection tray. “And what do you do?” she asked.
When the headwaiter had led me through the cruise ship's plush, chandelier-draped dining room to a round table set for six, four of the chairs were already occupied by a group of women who clearly knew one another well. They were all “women of a certain age,” but the blonde directly across from me was the only one who had gone to considerable effort to conceal the ravages of time. I had taken one of the two remaining places, empty chairs that sat side by side. When I ordered tonic with a twist, there was a distinct pause in the conversation.
“Very good, sir,” the waiter said with a nod before disappearing in the direction of the bustling waiters' station, which was directly to my back.For the better part of the next five minutes the conversation continued as before, with the four women talking at length about the generous divorce settlement someone known to all of them had managed to wring from the hide of her hapless and, as it turned out, serially unfaithful ex-husband. The general enthusiasm with which my tablemates greeted the news about a jerk being forced to pay through the nose told me I had fallen into an enemy camp made up of like-minded divorcées. So I wasn't exactly feeling all warm and fuzzy when the ringleader of the group asked her question. The fact that I was on a heaving cruise ship named Starfire Breeze pitching and bucking my way into Queen Charlotte Sound toward the Gulf of Alaska did nothing to improve mydisposition.
With little to lose, I decided to drop my best conversational bomb. “I'm a homicide detective,” I told the women mildly, taking a slow sip of my icy tonic which had arrived by then. “Retired,” I added after a pause.
I had put in my twenty years, so retired is technically true, although “retired and between gigs” would have been more accurate. However, it didn't seem likely that accuracy would matter as far as present company was concerned. So retired is what I said, and I let it go at that.
Over the years I've found that announcing my profession to a group of strangers usually cripples polite dinnertime small talk. Most people look at me as though I were a distasteful worm who has somehow managed to crawl out from under a rock. They give the impression that they'd just as soon I went right back where I came from. Then there are the occasional people who set about telling me, in complete gory detail, everything they know about some obscure and previously unsolved crime with which they happen to be personally acquainted. This tactic always serves to turn dinner into an unpleasant parlor game in which I'm set the lose/lose task of coming up with the solution to an insoluble mystery. No winners there.
Surprisingly enough, the blonde took neither option A nor option B. Instead, she gave me a white-toothed smile that was no doubt as phony and chemically augmented as the rest of her. “My name's Margaret Featherman,” she announced cordially, standing and reaching across the table with a jewel-bedecked, impeccably manicured hand. She gave me a firm handshake along with an unobstructed view of a generous cleavage.
“These are all friends of mine,” she chirped. “We went to college together. This is Naomi Pepper, Sharon Carson, and Virginia Metz.” As she gestured around the table, each of the women nodded in turn. “The four of us are having our annual reunion. And you are?” Margaret prompted, resuming her seat.
She had a gravelly voice that made me want to clear my throat. I pegged her as a smoker or maybe an ex-smoker.
“Beaumont,” I told her. “J. P. Beaumont.”
I didn't voluntarily elaborate on the Jonas Piedmont bit any more than I had on my employment situation. Nothing was said, but she frowned slightly when I said my name, as though it displeased her somehow. It occurred to me that maybe she had been expecting to hear some particular name, and Beaumont wasn't it.Although the other three women had been chatting amiably enough when I first arrived, now they shut up completely, deferring to Margaret Featherman as though she were the only one of the group capable of human speech. Whatever it was that had disturbed Margaret about my introduction, she regained her equanimity quickly enough.
“Now that we're out from behind Vancouver Island, the water is a little choppy,” she allowed a few seconds later. “I suppose your wife is feeling a bit under the weather.” She gave a helpful hint by nodding pointedly in the direction of the empty chair beside me.
“I'm a widower,” I said.
Again, that wasn't quite the whole story. If a wife dies in less than a day, is her husband still legitimately a widower? And if a first wife dies years after a divorce and it still hurts like hell to lose her to the big C, are you not a widower then? After all, Karen and I may have been divorced, but we had two children together and were still connected in a way no legal document could ever quite sever. Even now I'm surprised by how much her death continues to grieve me. Maybe if I were still drinking, I'd be in such an emotional fog that I wouldn't notice. But I'm not, so I do, and that wasn't any of this nosy broad's business, either.
“My wives are dead,” I added brusquely. “Both of them.” So much for winning friends and influencing people.
I expected the comment to shut her... Birds of Prey. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.