Friday, August 13, 2010

a review of "Queen of the Night" [61]

Queen of the Night: A Novel of Suspense by J.A.Jance
William Morrow, IBSN 978-0061239243
July 27, 2010, 368 pages

We start with the murder of a young college student, on vacation with friends in San Diego 50 years ago. It is a murder still unsolved but not forgotten. Then we are transported to present day California, where a laid off bank officer kills his entire family, his wife and children and even the family dog, and then sets out to avenge others who he feel have wronged him. But while these crimes may start in California, it will be in Arizona, in the Tohono O'odham Native American reservation and Tuscon that the story will be played out.

Returning, in this 4th book in the series, will be Diana Ladd and her husband, former sheriff Brandon Walker, haunted, quite literally, by the ghosts of the evil men from her past. We will also meet their adopted Tohono O'odham daughter Lani, now a medical doctor who will face a critical decision that will influence the rest of her life. Then there is half Apache border patrolman Dan Pardee, who will come across four murdered people in the desert, and also a young girl still alive, missed by the gunman, who was a witness to what happened. And finally there is Pima County Homicide Detective Brian Fellows, the first investigator on the grisly scene, an investigation that may well cost him his life.

Now that may seem like a lot of characters and a lot of story lines. That is true..and I did not tell you a fraction of it. If this book has one big shortfall it is the vast cast of characters, a group whose back stories and interconnections I had a lot of trouble keeping straight, especially at the beginning of the book. I did something I can not remember ever doing before. I took an index card and wrote all their names down, little arrows showing their connections. I counter over 25 people introduced in the first 60 pages. Quite honestly, looking back, many of them could have been left out to the benefit of overall story. Then there is the fact that several of these characters have complicated back stories that the author tried to explains, something that did not really work and was quite confusing at time. The people and the stories really needed to be pared down.

And I wish they had, because if you can hang in there and wade through the crowd, there is a really good, interesting and, at times, quite touching story in here. All these people, all these stories, will be tied together by the time the book ends. A lot of interconnections, ones we know about and at least one that will be a nice surprise, will become clear. This book is not a mystery. Even though it is in the title, I would not really even consider it a suspense novel.

We follow each character as the story unfolds. We know who did what and why they did it, each from their point of view. Even the outcome is not terrible surprising. No, suspense is not the draw here...what will happen to these people we come to care about in a very short period of time is what keeps the reader interested. That is perhaps the strength of this book, that the author can make us really care about these people in a relatively short period of time, in the midst of a fast paced story. And it is an interesting story, especially some glimpses, good and bad, of how this Indian nation functions,  both within their community, and with some outside groups. Best of all, it exposes us to some of the legends and stories that shape their identity, including the one of the Queen of the Night. The Queen of the Night is a beautiful fragrant flower that blooms only one night of the year, a legend that gives the book it's title and is at the heart of the book.

Again I find myself saying that if you have read the previous books in this series, two of which I had some time ago, you will not want to miss the continuation of the story in this book. If you are new to the series, you may want to go back and start at the beginning, although it is possible to wade in and with some concentration...and maybe an index card or two... figure out and enjoy this one.

My thanks to Library Thing Early Reviewers for my copy of this book.


  1. Are you sure you're not a Reader's Advisor librarian. This is a truly outstanding and powerful review. I know what the book is about, I know what the strengths and weaknesses are, I know what to expect if I decide to take on this series. But I don't know how it ends and that's good.

    How do these compare to her JP Beaumont and Joanna Brady series????

  2. I went on a J.A. Jance roll years ago (I think it was with Beaumont...didn't he have a wife that had cancer?). I really liked them. I'm not sure why I stopped reading them, except I don't have enough hours in the day. I don't recall any of the books having this many characters, but I don't really mind it, as long as they are distinctive.

  3. I don't think I have read any of her Brady series..I know I have not read any of the Beaumont books, about which I have read good things. I did read one in her Ali Reynolds, which I liked...and to tell you the truth I forgot I had read books in this series until I started this book and some characters seem familiar. Of course this was pre-blog, pre-reviews.

    I don't remember them suffering from the over population of this one yjough.

  4. I would want to start at the beginning. I'm wondering why I've never experienced Jance's work.

  5. She has written A LOT of books in several series, some 40 books in total.

  6. Jeez ... that is a lot of characters!!! I'm not sure about this ... the whole index card need kind of threw me off.


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