The 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.
Read an Excerpt
They say it happened long ago that the whole world was covered with water. I'itoi -- Elder Brother -- was floating around in the basket which he had made. After a time, Great Spirit came out of his basket and looked around. Everything was still covered with water, so I'itoi made himself larger and larger until shuhthagi -- the water -- reached only to his knees.
Then, while I'itoi was walking around in the water, he heard someone call. At first he paid no attention, but when the call came the fourth time, Elder Brother went to see who was shouting. And so I'itoi found Jeweth Mahka i -- Earth Medicine Man -- rejoicing because he was the first one to come out of the water.
Elder Brother said, "This is not true." He explained that he himself was first, but Jeweth Mahkai was stubborn and insisted that he was first.
Now I'itoi and Earth Medicine Man, as they were talking, were standing in the south. They started toward the west. As they were going through the water -- because there was as yet very little land -- they heard someone else shouting.
Ban -- Coyote --was the one who was making all the noise. I'itoi went toward the sound, but Elder Brother went one way, and Ban went another. And so they passed each other. Coyote was shouting that he was the very first one out of the water and that he was all alone in the world.
I'itoi called to Ban, and at last they came together. Elder Brother explained to Coyote that he was not the first. And then the three -- Great Spirit, Earth Medicine Man, and Coyote -- started north together. As they went over the mud, I'itoi saw some very smalltracks.
Elder Brother said, "There must be somebody else around." Then they heard another voice calling. It was Bitokoi -- Big Black Beetle -- which the Mil-gahn, the Whites, call stinkbug. Bitokoi told I'itoi that he was the very first to come out of the water. I'itoi did not even bother to answer him.
And then the four -- Elder Brother, Earth Medicine Man, Coyote, and Big Black Beetle -- went on together toward the east because, as you remember, nawoj, my friend, all things in nature go in fours.
Dolores Lanita Walker's slender brown legs glistened with sweat as she pumped the mountain bike along the narrow strip of pavement that led from her parents' house in Gates Pass to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum several miles away. Lani wasn't due at her job at the concession stand until 9 A.M., but by going in early she had talked her way into being allowed to help with some of the other duties.
About a mile or so from the entrance, she came upon the artist with his Subaru wagon parked off on the side of the road. He had been there every morning for a week now, standing in front of an easel or sitting on a folding chair, pad in hand, sketching away as she came whizzing past with her long hair flying out behind her like a fine black cape. In the intervening days they had grown accustomed to seeing one another.
The man had been the first to wave, but now she did, too. "How's it going?" he had asked her each morning after the first one or two.
"Fine," she'd answer, pumping hard to gain speed before the next little lump of hill.
"Come back when you can stay longer," he'd call after her. Lani would grin and nod and keep going.
This morning, though, he waved her down. "Got a minute?" he asked.
She pulled off the shoulder of the road. "Is something the matter?" she asked.
"No. I just wanted to show you something." He opened a sketch pad and held it up so Lani could see it. The picture took her breath away. It was a vivid color-pencil drawing of her, riding through the sunlight with the long early-morning shadows stretching out before her and with her hair floating on air behind her.
"That's very good," she said. "It really does look like me."
The man smiled. "It is you," he said. "But then, I've had plenty of time to practice."
Lani stood for a moment studying the picture. Her parents' twentieth wedding anniversary was coming up soon, in less than a week. Instinctively she knew that this picture, framed, would make the perfect anniversary present for them.
"How much would it cost to buy something like this?" she asked, wondering how far her first paycheck from the museum would stretch.
"It's not for sale," the man said.
Lani looked away, masking her disappointment with downcast eyes. "But I might consider trading for it," he added a moment later.
Lani brightened instantly. "Trading?" she asked. "Really?" But then disappointment settled in again. She was sixteen years old. What would she have to trade that this man might want?
"You're an Indian, aren't you?" he asked. Shyly, Lani nodded. "But you live here. In Tucson, I mean. Not on a reservation. "
Lani nodded again. It didn't seem necessary to explain to this man that she was adopted and that her parents were Anglos. It was none of his business.
"I've tried going out to the reservation to paint several times," he told her, "but the people seem to be really suspicious. If you'd consider posing for me, just for half an hour or so some morning, I'd give you this one for free."
"For free? Really?"
Lani didn't have to think very long. "When would you like to do it?" she asked.
"That would work," Lani said, "but I'd have to come by about half an hour earlier than this, otherwise I'll be late for work."
The man nodded. "That's fine," he said. "I'll be here. And could I ask a favor?"
Lani, getting back on her bike, paused and gave him a questioning look. "What's that?"
"Could you wear something that's sort of...well, you know" -- he shrugged uncomfortably --"something that looks Indian... Kiss of the Bees. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.