J. A. Jance

"Day of the Dead"

(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUL 24, 2004)

It began way back in 1970, when a member of a highway clean-up crew discovered an abandoned cooler in a culvert. He was looking forward to a beer...but what he found was a chopped up body. The face of the girl inside would haunt him until his death.

Brandon Walker won’t find out about her until 2002, when the dead girl's mother, Emma Orozco, comes to visit. As a member of TLC, The Last Chance, he and his fellow members solve cold cases. Emma was referred to Walker by a mutual friend, Fat Crack Ortiz, who acts as a medicine man for the Tohono O’odham. We find that he’s free to join the TLC because he is no longer Sheriff, forced out of office by Larry Stryker, and in this we find a major irony. Pretty much right away you know that, the same year the girl in the cooler was found, Larry’s wife, Gayle, found out he was fooling around with one of his patients, and that he had gotten her pregnant. Gayle storms out...and returns covered with blood. She does not admit directly that she murdered anyone, but it is implied. Larry and Gayle once helped Diana, Matthew’s wife, and though he doesn’t care for Larry, he treats him well for Diana’s sake. He has absolutely no idea that these people are anything other than a well to do and glamorous couple, famous for their kindness and charity work.

This makes for a really interesting story structure. Matthew’s starting out completely new. This isn’t some old case that he wasn’t able to solve, but something he’s starting out from scratch. As he conducts his investigations, we visit the Strykers...and discover that the death of the first girl has given them a whole new lease on life. This becomes pathetically clear when we meet Maria Elena, a young girl who was thrilled to be unofficially adopted by a rich white couple, taken from the squalor of her life in Nogales, Mexico. Instead of her dream of a better life, she finds herself raped and beaten. We go back and forth, through a lot of voices in the present time as well as the past. We get to observe this sickness develop between Gayle and Larry, even as we watch Matthew work his way towards discovering them. Matthew is a marvelous character...very closed-mouth, very pleasant, and so accompanying him on his mission is extra interesting.

Another thing that makes this story intriquing is that it’s not just about the mystery. We have a lot of Brandon and his family’s life in here, especially how it touches on their relationship with the Tohono O’odham. Their adopted daughter, Lani, for instance, is a doctor who is being trained by Fat Crack to take over for him when he dies...he encourages her to try and get along with his daughter-in-law, who controls the tribal fortunes, for the future good of the people. Peppered through out are wonderful stories, told in the proper folkloric tone. I really loved this look into the culture of this desert people, and thought the relationships between all of the characters added a lot to the book, carrying it beyond a simple mystery.

From the way the story is told, which some back story context at the beginning, I could tell that a book came before this, and a quick search yielded Hour of the Hunter and Kiss of the Bees. You can pretty much bet that I’ll be looking for these first two installments in the Brandon Walker series.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 44 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Joanna Brady Series

J.P. Beaumont Series (Seattle Homicide Detective)

*Features both Joanna Brady and J.P. Beaumont

++ Sentenced to Die is first three novels in one volume (March 2005)

Ex-Sheriff Brandon Walker:

Ali Reynolds series:



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About the Author:

J.A. JanceJ.A. Jance (Judith Ann) was born in 1944 in Waterown, South Dakota and was raised in Bisbee, Arizona. She now lives with her husband in Seattle, Washington and Tucson, Arizona.

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