Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Yes, indeed, folks is droppin' like flies," a crotchety witness says to Sheriff Joanna Brady. "I don't remember us havin' this kind of murder problem back when we had a man for sheriff." A killer is loose in Cochise County, Ariz., and Brady is under pressure to stop the carnage. Her sixth adventure (following Skeleton Canyon, 1997) begins with the discovery of a gun dealer's body. His stock of high-powered weapons has disappeared, and some of the later murder victims appear to have been shot with big guns. They are also scalped, throwing suspicion on visitors at a quasi-dude ranch for Apache wannabes from Europe, who dress in Indian garb and live outdoors. Then an FBI profiler tells Brady that the scalping may provide trophies for a possible serial killer. On the personal front, the widowed sheriff finds her relationship deepening with Phoenix bar owner Butch Dixon, and she suffers with her dear friend, minister Marianne Maculyea, whose faith is tested when her adopted daughter falls gravely ill. Although Joanna's private life is central to this series and is, as usual, movingly portrayed, the sheer number of bodies piling up in this case gives her professional efforts considerably more dramatic impact than her personal considerations. Author tour. (July)
The sixth Joanna Brady novel begins with a red herring and ends with a serial killer. Despite the gory details and the piling up of corpses, the mystery retains its human proportions, as Sheriff Brady contends with staff, friends, her love life, and her daughter. A satisfying entry.
The longer Joanna Brady's cases get, the less there seems to be to them. This time, the killer whose first homicide was just a warm-up for a spree that runs from Pomerene gun dealer Clyde Philips (beaten and smothered) to anti-oleander activist Ashley Brittany (shot and scalped) to dude ranch paper-shuffler Katrina Berridge (ditto and ditto) sounds like a meaty meal for the sheriff of Arizona's Cochise County. But the hints of survivalist hysteria go nowhere; the rumors of a small-scale range war between rancher Alton Hosfield and transplanted insurance exec Martin Scorsby go nowhere; even the war signals between Joanna and substitute medical examiner Dr. Fran Daly go nowhere. There are more killings, but Jance (Skeleton Canyon, 1997, etc.) seems less interested in them, certainly less interested in the killer behind them, than in Joanna's romance with restauranteur Butch Dixon or her friend Rev. Marianne Maculyea's medical tribulations with her adopted daughter. The result is less a police procedural, still less a mystery or suspenser than a novel of manners about a heroine whose career happens to be in law enforcement, and whose idea of bonding with the bereaved is to tell them that since she's a widow herself, she knows how they feel. All of which would be fine if Joanna and her intimates were interesting enough to make up for what's missing. As it is, Jance makes you appreciate how hard the best Faye Kellermans work to integrate her characters' domestic and professional lives, instead of simply serving them up on the same plate.
Read an Excerpt
High on a cliff, the shooter panned the nightscope back and forth across the San Pedro Valley. It took a while for him to locate his chosen target across almost a mile of in tervening desert. At last, though, he found it. After first put ting on his ear protection, he pulled the trigger. In his hands the fifty-caliber sniper rifle roared to life. He felt certain he had nailed the pump, but there was no way to tell for sure. The pump didn't collapse. It just stood there, hit perhaps and with its interior guts shattered, but outwardly the ma chinery remained unfazed.
Frustrated, the shooter looked around for some other possibility. That was when he saw the cattle. Taking a bead on a dozing cow, he pulled the trigger again and was gratified to see her legs collapse under her. The shooter smiled in satisfaction. There was something god like in being able to kill from that far away, to be able to strike without warning, like a thunderbolt. The other cat tle, alarmed and frightened, milled abouti trying to escape from this unseen threat. Laughing in the face of their stupidity and panic, he dropped another one, just to prove he could.
Letting the others go, he pulled off his ear protection and was starting to take down the tripod when he heard some one shouting at him, screaming up at him in fear and out rage. "What are you, crazy? Stop it before someone gets hurt!"
The shooter could barely believe his ears. Someone was out there in the desert, a woman, standing somewhere be tween him and the dead cattle. Someone who had heard him shooting.
"Sorry," he called back. He was just doing some target practice. I didn't know anyone washere. Where are you?"
He ducked back down to the tripod. Once again he sent the nightscope scanning across the desert floor. A minute or two passed before he caught sight of the green-hued figure. Moving determinedly, she was trotting away from him, heading toward the river. It stunned him to realize that she must have been on the mountain the whole time he was. Maybe she had seen him and could even identify him. Reaching a spot of fairly open desert, she darted forward with all the grace of a panic-stricken deer. The green image in the high-powered night-vision scope smeared as she accelerated.
Without pausing to consider, the shooter covered his ears once more and placed a firm finger back inside the trigger guard. The woman was much closer than the cattle had been, so he had some difficulty adjusting his aim. The first shot caused her to trip and duck. As she limped forward, he realized he had winged her, but it wasn't enough to stop her. The second shot did, at least momentarily. She dropped to the ground, but even then, desperate to get away, she scrambled to her feet once more and staggered forward, cradling one arm.
"Damnf" the shooter exclaimed. "Missed again."
His third shot did the job. The bullet caught her in the middle of the back. She pikhed forward and plummeted facedown on the rocky ground. This time she stayed down. He watched for the better part of a minute, but there was no sign of movement. None at all.
Up on the mountain, the shooter was barely able to con tain his glee as he gathered his equipment and shell casings. Killing people did something for him that killing animals didn't. It made him feel all-powerful and all-knowing.
He didn't rush, though He took his time. After all, there was no reason to worry that she'd somehow get up on her hands and knees and crawl away from him. No, people shot with fifty-caliber shells weren't mobile enough for that. He had no doubt that by the time he found herby the time he and his trusty knife arrived on the scenc the woman would still be there, waiting for him.
Rattlesnake Crossing. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.