Proof of Life: J.A. Jance
Boredom can really take its toll on your mind except if you are J.P Beaumont who can find a way to get into the groove of things even when he’s just looking to spend time with his wife, Chief of Police Melissa Soames. A former homicide detective at 72 he’s still on the ball and yet needs a serious diversion. His wife is inundated with cases at work, murder, cold cases and more while Beau at times is asked to work at a volunteer cold-case center in order to have something other than watching television or reading to pass the time of day. But, wishful thinking sometimes comes from a direction you won’t expect. Maxwell Cole is a crime reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and someone who Beau really can’t stand. At one time they were in the same fraternity but when Beau used his charm and handsome ways and stole Max’s girlfriend the war was one and the friendship went south. Something happens to connect them in a different way when Max dies in what appears as an accidental fire that killed him but was it an accident or murder? Erin Kelsey Howard inherited all of Max’s money and worldly possessions and wants to hire Beau to look into the death of someone she called Uncle Max. Max was her godfather and his death bothers her since she was in a dangerous situation when someone tried to kill her and Beau saved her life. Erin is straightforward, to a point and although Beau might not be her favorite person, Max left a letter instructing her to call on Beau in case anything happened to him. Added in we learn that before his death he was working on a book focused on corruption at the highest level and the letter would be a start for him to find out what happened. Max’s letter specifically says NO POLICE!
This is a multi-complex novel with another plot that runs throughout the story as one of Mel’s officers is suspended when someone fires a BB gun at him and he shoots back. The case of course needs to be handled in delicate manner and the person that is charged is the abusive husband of a wife and two children as well as a precious wolfhound dog named Rambo aka Lucy. The scenes with the dog are priceless as the wife and her two children are in a save place hoping that her husband does not come after them but when in jail after released from the hospital someone actually posts his bail and the fear that he will find them leaves a dark cloud over the family and the hint that there is more to come. There was something about Marcia Kelsey’s murder or suicide that bothered Beau and with the help of Ron Peters his connection in the police force he was given access to the murder book and the evidence box. Wanting to find out more about the death of Max Cole he too checked out this box four times before he died. But why? The author goes into detail the procedures for gaining access to a room with this type of evidence and the way the person viewing the materials is allowed to proceed. This is interesting and will help other authors who want to create the proper sequence of events when writing a murder mystery.
Beau also meets with Max’s literary agent who is gay and is an owner in the Drag Queen Comedy Theater and puts him in contact with Amanda his partner learning more about Max and his sexual orientation that had been kept secret until Beau and Mel learned more from this drag queen. Investigating more he learns that the person who might have been hired to off Max was a victim of a deadly hit and run leading him to believe that there is much more to this case then meets the eye.
The author reminds us of Erin’s family history and the two people that were her parents yet she is estranged from the man who took care of her as her father even though in reality he was an army deserter but cared for her as if she were his own child. Marcia Kelsey and her father had an unusual relationship before Marcia was killed. The evidence boxes bring to light Max’s history; Erin’s family history and two people involved that day in the death of Marcia Kelsey. Marcia was said to have killed her lover and then herself but was it a suicide or was it murder. Add in Todd Farraday who was killed by someone who decided to make sure he fell off of the wagon and drank himself into oblivion but what was his connection to Max Cole? Someone came into the bar that Beau is picking up his dinner at and saw Max and asked to help change his tire and the next thing Max’s house is burned down to the ground and the man who set it on fire was hit in a hit and run intentional accident.
Thomas Gaines was the literary agent Max hired to help promote and publish his book called Tangled Web. At the same time Beau was going to see him Ken Purcell was being arraigned. Hopefully he won’t make bail and endanger his family or anyone else. Todd Farraday met with Max and the next think you know he’s dead too but if he stopped drinking what was it that made him feel disoriented? Marcia Kelsey was murdered and was married in name only to John Madsen. Max according to what Raines tells him was gay and the author’s he represents are mainly mainstream fiction. Everyone he contacts and questions turns out to be in danger because someone hiding behind the scenes is controlling the events that are about to unfold. Erin Howard became his friend and Al Thorne his contact to in the department to help him find out more about the fire in Max’s house, whose prints were on a specific object that he notices and allowing him to do an unofficial investigation of become part of one. Noticing the object while going through the burned Max filled with water damage, smoke and a horrific odor, he finds something and manages to get someone to try and identify the prints.
Going through the evidence boxes for Marcia’s murder and her lover Alvin Chambers whom she shot and then shot herself he sees something that might enlighten everyone. Her case remained unsolved and went cold and the investigation into her death not dealt with. Crime scene photos were there, a murder book where he learned that the murder weapon belong to Alvin Chambers a security guard in a school who needed it to protect himself due to the many closures and union labor negotiations that went south. Todd Farraday linked to this somehow and the reality that he was supposed to get money from a house that belonged to his mother before she died and then owned by his stepfather plus her antique business sent up red flags. Pete Kelsey’s name is really John Madsen after getting a new identity because he was an army deserter. Charlotte Chambers was interviewed who enlightened the police about Marcia, John and Marcia’s other partner Andrea Stovall.
Things get ugly when Detective Kevin Blaylock agrees to share information to appoint with Beau. A man named Duc Nguyen was killed in a hit an run but not before setting fire to Max’s house and puncturing his tire before meeting him for a drink at Sneaky Pete’s and J.P. wondered who was behind the hit on both ends?
Things come out and they learn from another source a man living in place called the Refuge for homeless people, told Beau that he is certain that Todd was sober and that someone did something to him and his stepfather had to have something to do with it but did he? His stepfather was police chief for a short time and married again after his mother died. Larry Harden is his stepfather and although Todd might have gone to him his mom would not have thrown him out but he did. Todd was supposed to get part of the proceeds if his stepfather sold the house.
Beau makes the connection to Sneaky Pete’s and things start falling into place but meeting with the Detective, sharing what he knows and found sends the detective right into the hands of a killer. Todd Farraday did not die from being drunk but from something else. Duc Nguyen was killed and his prints found at the crime scene in Cole’s house. The ME was thorough and the information sends him and his wife Mel into dangerous territory. Lawrence Harden work with the port commission gave him access to the kind of people that could send him drugs and other contraband that could be smuggled and placed in his late wife’s antique business hidden away in a dark room or basement. When Duc was killed and LAB the gang he belonged to is finally stopped what they learn from those hoping to get a deal with make your head spin. Clues mount up and author J.A. Jance throws readers several huge hailstones blocking you from seeing what might be right in front of you and the true mastermind behind the four murders. Fingerprints that belonged to Duc, something that was given to Todd, someone who killed the detective and one more revelation that will make your blood curdle and define the true meaning of sadistic. Duc Nguyen punctured Max’s tire, offered to change it and then went to burn down his house. Todd Farraday just what killed him and when Mel joins in the investigation when the detective is killed things move in a different direction. But, with Rambo/Lucy in play and someone wanting revenge in his family the surprise they both get will prove just how smart Mel but can she take this man down or will Beau watch him kill her or worse? The ending is terrifying and when the pieces are put together you won’t believe the fate of someone duped, swindled and tortured when the truth behind the murders is revealed. J.P. Beaumont is a smart, astute and relentless character that at times is impulsive but won’t give up until he gets the answers he wants. Hard hitting, tough, persistent and a character you want more of author J.A. Jance created a plot that focuses on deceit, lies, greed, money, power, and a huge black veil that is thrown over the reader’s eyes to shield you from learning the truth.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine