“Field of Bones” by J. A. Jance is number eighteen in the Joanna Brady series, but those who have not read the previous books can jump right in without any problem. Quick background comments within the context of the storyline provide any needed information.
The book opens as Sheriff Joanna Brady gathers on election night with friends and supporters in the social hall of the Tombstone Canyon United Methodist Church in Old Bisbee. It had been a contentious reelection campaign complicated by personal tragedies and her pregnancy; both had threatened to derail her reelection. (Spoiler alert, but it is in the prologue, so not really a spoiler) Joanna’s first jolting contraction indicates that Eleanor Sage Dixon is refusing to wait for the election returns.
Jance intertwines three complex stories that converge and depart throughout the book. The first unfolds somewhere in the desert where young women are being held in the dark. In an unspeakable yet all too realistic segment with graphic violence and explicit descriptions that may not be for everyone, the details of human trafficking unfold. Nothing these girls had experienced on the street could compare with “The Boss.”
Readers also look in on Joanna and baby Sage. She has plenty of help even though her husband, a successful mystery writer, is on a book tour for “Just the Facts,” the fourth book in the Kimberly Charles series. However, after just two weeks of maternity leave, she is restless and ready to get back to work. She turns to a shelf and begins reading her father’s leather-bound journals, the ones he had meticulously kept during his law enforcement career.
Meanwhile, Joanna’s team of investigators concentrate on the constant clashes with illegal immigrants crossing the border and the resulting chases, crashes, and catastrophes. When a mother and her son come into the sheriff’s office to turn in something the child found in the desert, they almost dismissed the pair, but then the boy opens a bag and pulls out a human skull with a single bullet hole. “We’ve got a murder.”
Jance’s vivid descriptions are full of emotion.
“As they topped a small rise, a single bird—an immense vulture—spread his massive wings and vaulted into the air, circling briefly above them before soaring away. The presence of the buzzard sent a chill message to Tom Hadlock and to almost everyone else in the group. Up ahead of them, something was dead.”
Jance includes extensive backstories that provide a comprehensive standalone story. The chapters alternate points of view to advance the story from various vantage points. History and local color complete the context of the “Old West” today.
The extensive cast of characters is well defined and believable. All juggle everyday tasks and diverse problems as well the complications within their dedicated roles. Progress continues at a realistically slow but steady pace, and little incidents become much more involved as details emerge.
I received a copy of “Field of Bones” from J. A. Jance, William Morrow, and Edelweiss. The relationships make this a compelling novel. Readers see the turmoil from all points of view and the illegal activities pull in the reader. Fans of the series will love this latest installment, and new readers will jump right in to the action. It is a wild ride for everyone.