Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: Remains of Innocence by J.A. Jance

I think this is the first Jance mystery I've read. It's our book for the mystery book club at the library tomorrow evening, so I thought I'd give myself a couple of days to get it read - but I read it straight through, took me about 7 hours yesterday afternoon through evening. So that should tell you I liked it! It's a real page-turner.

It starts with a young woman, Liza,  steeling herself to enter her dying mother's house. Her mother was a lifelong abusive alcoholic and hoarder, and Liza left home the minute she graduated from high school, and though she lived in the nearby small town she hadn't seen her mother for many years. What she finds in the house turns her life upside down in very short order: Over a hundred thousand dollars in cash, hidden in the thousands of books and magazines mixed among the filth and debris in that nightmarish house.  She doesn't realize it's tied to her father who abandoned the family when she was an infant; she knows almost nothing about him.

She uses some of the money to hire locals to empty and clean out, and refurbish the house for sale, while her mother is in hospice. A stranger approaches her with a dire, one-sentence, obscure warning at her mother's funeral, and before that day is over the house is burned to the ground, and her innocent, elderly landlady is brutally murdered. Within 24 hours Liza is on the run from whoever is looking for her - heading for her long-estranged brother in Bisbee, Arizona who is the only person on earth she has left.

In the meantime (as the old movies liked to say), Arizona’s Cochise County Sheriff Joanna Brady has a brutal murder of a locally-loved developmentally disabled man to deal with, and she has to call the ME back from his scheduled getaway weekend. He agrees, resentfully, but then he never shows up for the autopsy. The first murder involved disturbing evidence of a potential Beginner Serial Killer's work, but the second murder is out-and-out torture and murder. Short-handed, Brady juggles all the inter-jurisdictional and budgetary burdens her office is plagued with as well as trying to do her own family justice.

I had only one complaint about this book and it was about an increasingly annoying habit of Liza constantly - I mean CONSTANTLY - identifying the local people she knew with their regular order at the diner she worked at. It was fresh and kind of cute the first two times, but I have to say, eventually I almost gave up on the book because of it. For awhile I was thinking, well, Jance must have had a reason to do this - maybe what someone eats will turn out important to the story. After that though I realized nothing she could do with it could make it worth the aggravation. I was never so glad for anything as when Liza finally left town and got away from all those diner regulars. JEEZ it was annoying!

HOWEVER, that said, I really like the characters and the story and the descriptions, and that she sprinkled real surprises throughout the plot. I will definitely recommend this to mystery readers, and I'll be reading more Jance in the future!

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