“Until Proven Guilty” 

until proven guiltyJ.A. Jance will be at The Book Carnival, 348 S. Tustin Street, Orange, CA 92866,  on Monday, September 11 at 7:00 PM to discuss the newest J. P. Beaumont novel, “Proof of Life,” number 23 in the series. With that in mind, this is a good time to look at J. P. Beaumont’s first appearance in “Until Proven Guilty,” published in 1985.

“Until Proven Guilty” is a first person narrative by Jonas Piedmont Beaumont, called “Beau” by many, but he prefers to be called “J. P.” The easy conversational style gives the reader the feeling of sitting with J.P. chatting, drinking MacNaughton’s, looking out at the Seattle skyline, and sharing memories of his years as a homicide detective.  This reminiscing also does not date the story because of technology missing in 1985 because, after all this is a story from the past.

We grow to like J. P., flaws and all. He eats junk food on real plates with linen napkins and regrets his divorce. He has fifteen years’ experience, dislikes “educated” police and newspaper reporters, especially his college friend on the local paper. He does not like new and improved anything. Sometimes as we chat, he reflects on his actions with comments such as “I should have known that my day would not go well.”

He tells readers the disturbing story of a five-year old murdered child and the search for her killer.  (NOTE: Do not worry, J. P. does not give away the ending, and neither will I.) We experience the players and the plays through his eyes as he plunges into the shadowy world of religious fanatics. He shares his opinions, questions, and frustrations. He makes this a personal search, both for him and for us readers. We overlook his manipulation of evidence and procedures for the greater good of finding the killer. He travels down false trails, experiences predictable harassment by the press, and unexpectedly encounters the mysterious woman in the red dress. J.P.’s narrative is both twisting and interesting.  He compels us to keep turning the pages to discover what comes next.

“Until Proven Guilty” introduces J.P. and develops his character so well that readers might forget that this was the first novel. There are now 23 books in the series, and this certainly is one of the best. I loved it.