Avon Books paperback, 2004. 390 pages. (First published in hardcover by William Morrow in 2003.)
A Joanna Brady mystery.
I was first introduced to J. A. Jance as the writer of the J. P. Beaumont series. Beaumont is a detective on the Seattle Police force. Being a Western Washington dweller, I was attracted to these novels in part by being familiar with the places in which they were set, and enjoyed the references to local customs and institutions, such as the (now defunct) Doghouse Restaurant, an old-fashioned greasy spoon choked by cigarette smoke that was a favorite hangout for Seattle denizens for many decades.
My standards for mystery fiction aren't incredibly high, and reading stuff set in Seattle that was mysterious enough and diverting enough to keep my attention kept me going. And Jance has had her moments.
Several years ago I read (or, more precisely, listened to a recording of) a book by her called Hour of the Hunter. Now that was a terrific novel. It had a great story, lots of suspense and mystery, and made me curious to learn more about the Tohono O'otham tribe, whose nation spans the border between Mexico and the USA.
I regret to report that I can't give Exit Wounds the same kind of praise. It does adhere to what I consider to be the essential principles of mystery:
- The perpetrator(s) is (are) part of the entire story, introduced as close as possible toward the beginning but not revealed until the end of the story.
- The identity of the perpetrator is not obvious, but it is not farfetched or ridiculous -- even though it may be made to seem so until the mystery is solved.
- The story contains plenty of interesting characters, settings, and details.
- The mystery is not bogged down in or by the interesting characters, settings, and details.
The novel loses points with me for having unbelievable characters. My biggest complaint is the Sheriff herself. I guess I've just gotten tired of Joanna Brady. She is so good, pure, kind, and even religious, that I actually find myself disliking her. This is distracting. Her husband is nearly as perfect as she. And her daughter -- I haven't met any 13 year olds anything like Joanna's perfectly cooperative non-whining mopeless Jenny.
This is not my first Joanna Brady novel, I've read most of them, so I can't say I wasn't familiar with the character. Without doing an exhaustive re-reading and study of the series I'd have to admit that I don't really know this, but I have the feeling that Joanna has become more like the person I have described above. Perhaps I've just become more grouchy and/or sensitive about her. In any event, I was undeniably distracted by my own irritation with this issue while reading Exit Wounds.
The novel deals with the murder of a woman named Carol Mossman who lives in a mobile home on a sort of run-down ranch. She has a large number of dogs, something like 12 or more, living there. We later find that she is a "hoarder," a person with a specific mental illness compelled to take in unreasonable numbers of unwanted animals. It's explained that such people are often victims of abuse, including sexual abuse. Soon after this murder, another is committed, this time involving two women who are found near a highway several miles from the town of Bisbee, where Joanna lives and enforces the law. As the story progresses, we learn that the murders are related, and related to Mossman's family's troubles.
Underlying the murders is a complicated family dispute that involves abduction, polygamy, and membership in a strange quasi-religious sect called "The Brethren," reminiscent of some similar strange organizations and practices we've heard of in the news.
The mystery itself is good, the book is readable and free of embarrassing mistakes in detail (as far as I noticed), and I would welcome it if it were the best I could find to entertain me on an airplane trip or some other interlude of boredom.