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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Kiss of the Bees
An intensely thought-provoking blend of character study, mysticism, and pure page-turning suspense, Kiss of the Bees is the new novel from J. A. Jance — and a major departure from both the J. P. Beaumont series and the author's six mysteries featuring Sheriff Joanna Brady. Here, Jance exercises all her skills for researching Native American legend and fuses them to an incredibly moving thriller that will both fascinate and terrify readers. Kiss of the Bees transcends the crime-action field and serial killer subgenre, taking the best from those territories and surpassing them both.
When a psychopathic creative writing professor, Andrew Carlisle, attacked and nearly murdered Diana Ladd, her son Davy, and housekeeper "Nana Dahd" 20 years ago, he left behind a wake of haunting horror. Blinded and crippled in the aftermath of the brutal events, Carlisle is imprisoned with nothing to sustain him but his rage and desire for revenge. At about the same time, an embittered Mitch Johnson is arrested by Diana's soon-to-be husband, Brandon Walker, and imprisoned for murdering three illegal immigrants. The two men become cell mates, and Carlisle finds Johnson to be a willing pupil; together they set out to scheme against the Ladd-Walker family. Nearly two decades later, Carlisle dies in prison of AIDS, but not before his plans have been set in motion.
The Ladd-Walker family has been slowly coming apart at the seams since the attack. David, nowalaw school student, suffers from paralyzing panic attacks. Brandon's son, Quentin, is a troublemaking ex-con who formed an association with Carlisle and Johnson in prison. The wedge driven between Diana and Brandon has grown even wider since the publication of Diana's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, entitled Shadow of Death, which describes the assault in excruciating detail. The only one who seems to have survived the trauma intact is Diana and Brandon's adopted daughter, Lani, a beautiful Native American teenager who has learned the lessons of Nana Dahd well — and she will need them all if she is to survive the evil forces about to invade the family's life once again.
To Jance's great credit, she allows the story to unfold slowly in a series of flashbacks and artful retellings of the circumstances, allowing the reader to enter the lives of all involved and seeing different facets of the overall arcing tale. Her prose is sleek and fast and capable of generating high amounts of tension. The exposition is kept to a bare minimum as the reader is drawn into the lives of the protagonists and antagonists, each layer of the story deliberately revealed from a different perspective. Each chapter begins with a Tohono O'othham legend that underscores all the circumstances, good and bad, going on in the novel. The powerful lessons of myth and religion are shown in their most essential and beneficial sense as Nana Dahn instills the children with a sense of self and purpose that they use to the fullest in order to survive the horrors that befall them.
Kiss of the Bees is a compelling novel with a convincing mix of action, psychological suspense, and Native American mysticism that serves to keep the tale moving and make it even larger than the sum of the events it portrays. The characters are fully fleshed, so that we come to care for them in all their crisis situations. Jance poignantly sets up an ebb and flow of terror, fortitude, and magic. The reader is provided not only with a vibrant depiction of the land but also with the authentic metaphysical atmosphere that envelops the characters.
Though comparisons to the work of Tony Hillerman are inevitable, Jance manages to use many of the same elements to a much different end. Kiss of the Bees is a novel of raw beauty and significance on many levels, with the precise amount of nefarious mayhem, superstition, and personal empowerment that breaks the mold and creates a whole new form of profound, and unforgettable, storytelling.