Book Review: Day of the Dead by J. A. Jance
I picked this book up from the library of our townhouse complex. I’ve been a Jance fan for a long time and this proved to be a typical action thriller with her usual depth of character and complicated plots. However, it might have been a bit too complicated to fully absorb and follow.
I have to be honest and say that I had to pop back and forth to keep track of everyone and what they were doing. I kept forgetting who was who and what they were up to when we last touched on them in the storyline, so that was a bit of a drag. It also seemed to proceed a bit slowly in the beginning and took awhile to kick in gear. Once it got going it maintained the pace.
Another issue I had was with the inserted ancient stories of the Tohono O’odham people, (which were, according to the author, originally recorded by Harold Bell Wright in the early 1900s). There seemed to be three different ones, staggered in sequence at the beginning of what appeared to be randomly chosen chapters throughout the novel. I reread them a few minutes ago by themselves and I still, for the life of me, don’t have any idea what they have to do with the modern plot. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m thick. But it should have been really obvious. I don’t have time to reread the book to figure them out, nor do I desire to.
It was exceedingly gory almost from the beginning, and while I can handle gore, I just felt sad that the author felt she needed to put it all in. I think there are ways to allude to a violent death, just as one can allude to raunchy sex, without actually spelling it out. I’m just not into it. I like the thrill but not the nausea.
The storyline proposed something that I hope is not actually going on anywhere. I’m not sure with the way the U.S. border is patrolled these days that the events of the story could happen. At least I hope not. But once again, the author chose to offer a potential blueprint for a serial killer. At one of the workshops I attended, sometime over the last few years at the Surrey International Writers Conference just up the road, we discussed moral responsibility of writers in regard to their work. Of course, many felt you should write whatever the heck you want and just fling it out there for all to see, but I am not a believer in that behaviour. I think writers need to be morally responsible to hold back some of the gory details or potential blueprints for crime, including murder and kidnapping, in case some wacko decides to copy your ideas.
There’s so much violence online, on the TV and at the movies, that I think it’s time we held ourselves back a little and used some discretion. Of course this novel was written in about 2004, and a lot has happened since then, so Jance probably did not foresee the coming of the no-holds-barred world of the present.
It is a good story, of course, by a very famous and extremely prolific and well-read author. Just not my favourite of her work. So I’m going to give it 3 stars *** out of 5 for all the reasons I’ve stated above.
Thirty years ago, the butchered body of a local Papago girl was found stuffed into a large cooler on the side of Highway 86. No one was ever charged for the crime. Few even cared.
And no one suspected it was just the beginning.
Retired Pima County Sheriff Brandon Walker’s work with The Last Chance—an exclusive, nationwide fraternity of former lawmen investigating unsolved homicides—has brought new purpose to his life. But a gruesome, three-decades-old cold case is leading him into a strange world at the unlikely border between forensic science and tribal mysticism—a place where evil hides behind a perfect façade. A long-forgotten murder in the Arizona desert now threatens to bring home a new horror for Walker and his family, who have already survived the dark hunger of two human monsters. And suddenly the relentless ex-cop is the only person who can still unravel a blood knot of terror and obsession before the innocent die again.
Overview from Jance’s Website
Cut loose from a job he loved, retired sheriff Brandon Walker is adrift in retirement until attorney Ralph Ames offers him a lifeline. The Last Chance, a volunteer organization made up of retired law enforcement and forensics experts, devotes its efforts to solving cases long gone cold. Brandon’s good friend, a Tohono O’odham medicine man named Fat Crack Ortiz, brings just such a case to Brandon’s attention–the thirty year-old unsolved murder of a young Indian girl.
In a case that crosses cultural lines, Brandon brings to bear the modern tools of DNA identification as well as the ancient wisdom of the Desert People as he pits himself against a pair of remorseless killers who have sown decades of death across the Arizona desert.
From the Author:
Mysteries are primarily puzzles. Thrillers lend themselves to the examination of good and evil.
In “Day of the Dead” good is represented by Brandon Walker, his family, and friends. A dying medicine man, Fat Crack Ortiz, is willing to trust his Anglo friend, a retired Pima county sheriff, with a long neglected murder, despite the fact that reopening the case goes against the grain of tribal tradition and taboos. Brian Fellows, Brandon’s not-quite foster son, has followed in Brandon’s law enforcement footsteps and helps from inside the department Brandon no longer heads. Lani Walker, Brandon’s adopted Indian daughter, a medicine woman in her own right, sees inexplicable images in the sacred crystals given to her by her beloved godfather and mentor, Fat Crack.
These were all characters I had met before–in “Hour of the Hunter” and “Kiss of the Bees”, and they wouldn’t let me loose. They stuck with me, nagging me, requiring that I write another book to find out what had been happening in their lives in the years since I had last written about them.
Evil is represented by Gayle and Dr. Lawrence Stryker. Operating without restraint or conscience, these are people for whom boundaries are made to be crossed and rules to be broken. They kill and torture helpless young women simply because they can. They operate with impunity behind an unblemished facade that portrays them as do-gooding pillars of the community.