By J. A. Jance
Published by William Morrow
August 2003; 0-380-97731-1; 384 pages
Late on Tuesday afternoon, Sheriff Joanna Brady sat at her desk, stared at the pages of her calendar, and knew that Butch Dixon, her husband, was absolutely right. She was overbooked. When he had mentioned it at breakfast that morning, she had done the only reasonable thing and denied it completely.
Coffeepot in hand, Butch had stood looking at the week's worth of calendar he had finally convinced Joanna to copy and tape to the refrigerator door in a vain attempt at keeping track of her comings and goings.
"Two parades on Friday?" he had demanded, studying the two pages of copied calendar entries she had just finished posting. "According to this, the parades are followed by appearances at two community picnics." Butch shook his head. "And you still think you'll be at the fairgrounds in time for Jenny's barrel-racing event, which will probably start right around four? You're nuts, Joey," he concluded after a pause. "Totally round the bend. Or else you've picked up a clone without telling me about it."
"Don't worry," she told him. "I'll be fine."
Butch had poured coffee and said nothing more. Now, though, late in the afternoon and after putting in a full day's work, Joanna studied her marathon schedule and worried that maybe Butch was right. How would she cover all those bases?
The Fourth of July had always been one of Joanna's favorite holidays. She loved going to the parade, hosting or attending a backyard barbecue, and then ending the evening in town watching Bisbee's community fireworks display.
But this wasn't a typical Fourth of July. This was an election year, and Joanna Brady was an active-duty sheriff trying to do her job in the midst of a stiffly contested reelection campaign. Rather than watching a single parade, she was scheduled to participate in two of them -- driving her Crown Victoria in Bisbee's parade starting at eleven and in Sierra Vista's, twenty-five miles away, starting at twelve-thirty. She was also slated to appear briefly at two community picnics that day -- in Benson and St. David. The day would end with her making a few introductory remarks prior to the annual fireworks display eighty miles from home in Willcox. Stuffed in among all her official duties, she needed to be at the Cochise County fairgrounds outside of Douglas at the stroke of four o'clock.
After years of practicing around a set of barrels positioned around the corral at High Lonesome Ranch, Jennifer Ann Brady had declared that she and her sorrel quarter horse, Kiddo, were ready for their public barrel-racing debut. That Fourth of July would mark Jenny's first-ever competition on the junior rodeo circuit. Joanna's showing up for the barrel-race rodeo had nothing at all to do with politics and everything to do with motherhood.
Be there or be square, Joanna told herself grimly.
Looking away from her calendar, Joanna walked across to the dorm-sized refrigerator Butch had brought back from Costco in Tucson and installed in her office. She retrieved a bottle of water. Taking a thoughtful drink, she stared out the window at the parched hills surrounding the Cochise County Justice Center. The thermometer perched in the shade under the roof of a covered parking stall just outside her office door still hovered around 103 degrees. Summertime temperatures in and around Bisbee seldom exceeded the low nineties, so having the temperature still that hot so late in the afternoon was bound to be a record breaker.
Inside Joanna's office, things weren't much better. The thermostats at all county-owned facilities were now set at a budget/energy-conscious 80 degrees -- too warm to think or concentrate. She had a fan in her office, too, but she hated to use it because it tended to blow loose papers all over her desk -- and there were always loose papers. The radio, playing softly behind her desk, switched from music to bottom-of-the-hour news where the weather was a big concern. All of Arizona found itself in the grip of a severe drought and what was, even for July, a fierce heat wave.
The radio reporter announced that flights in and out of Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport had been grounded due to concerns that the heat-softened runways might be damaged by planes landing and taking off in the record-breaking 126-degree temperatures. The announcer's running gag about its being a dry heat didn't help Joanna's frame of mind. Bisbee, situated two hundred miles southeast of Phoenix, was a couple of thousand feet higher than Phoenix and more than twenty degrees cooler, but that didn't help, either. Deciding to ignore the weather, Joanna switched off the radio and returned to studying her calendar and its self-inflicted difficulties.
Months earlier, one of her least favorite deputies, Kenneth W. Galloway, had officially announced his intention to run against her. Bankrolled by a wife with a booming real estate business in Sierra Vista, Ken, Jr., had resigned from Joanna's department within weeks of announcing his candidacy. Minus the burden of a regular job, Galloway had been on the stump ever since. He spent every day on the campaign trail, crisscrossing the county with door-belling efforts and public appearances.
And that was where he had Joanna at a disadvantage. With a department to run, she couldn't afford to doorbell all day long. She had done her share of rubber-chicken banquets and pancake-breakfast speeches for local civic organizations, but she'd had to squeeze them in around her regular duties. Which was why she had said yes to appearing at all those various Fourth of July events. She'd be able to cross paths and shake hands with far more people at those holiday get-togethers than she would have been able to see under ordinary circumstances ...
The incomparable J. A. Jance returns with a powerful tale that explores the darkest corners of human nature, revealing the grievous injuries inflicted behind locked doors, the unseen wounds that bleed and destroy and never heal ...
The heat is a killer in Cochise County, Arizona, with temperatures over 100 degrees. In the suffocating stillness of an airless trailer, a woman is lying dead, a bullet hole in her chest. Why someone would murder a harmless loner with a soft spot for stray dogs is only one of the questions nagging at the local police; another is why the killer used an eighty-five-year-old bullet, fired from the same weapon that slaughtered two other women who were discovered bound, naked, and gruesomely posed on the remote edge of a rancher's land.
The slayings are as oppressive as the blistering heat for Sheriff Joanna Brady, who must shoulder the added double burden of a brutal reelection campaign and major developments on the home front. With suddenly more on her plate than many big-city law officers have to contend with, Joanna must put marital distractions and an opponent's dirty tricks in the background and deal with the terrifying reality that now threatens everyone in her jurisdiction: a serial killer in their midst.
A twisted and lethal drama is unfolding in this small corner of the southwestern desert as fear, hatred, and the evil at the core of one family's history come to a rapid boil beneath a merciless Arizona sun. Pressure mounts for Sheriff Brady personally and professionally while she pursues a sadistic murderer into the shadows of the past to get to the roots of a monstrous obsession ... and expose the permanent wounds of a crime far worse than homicide.(back to top)