J.A. Jance takes a brave leap by bringing her two popular protagonists, separated by geography and writing styles, together for the first time in PARTNER IN CRIME. Jance's fans often break into two categories --- ones who like the curt, no-nonsense style of Seattle detective J. P. Beaumont, her original series mystery hero, and those who prefer the more sensitive, often searching-for-self style of the first female sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona, widow and mother Joanna Brady.
Sheriff Brady is confronted with a confounding mystery when a promising young artist dies suddenly and mysteriously the day before her grand opening in a Bisbee, Arizona art gallery. Shortly thereafter, the gallery owner vanishes, and as Sheriff Brady sifts through evidence and background, she learns that the dead artist was in a witness protection program out of Seattle, Washington.
J. P. (Beau) Beaumont, recently retired from the Seattle police force, has been asked to apply his considerable detective skills to work on a special Washington State Attorney General's task force. He is assigned by the Attorney General to follow up on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death involving the artist who had relocated to Arizona. She was a key witness in a prison contracting scheme, and her death puts a serious crimp in the state's case against a big-time contractor. Was she murdered in an attempt to keep her quiet, or was her death a result of a lovers' quarrel?
Beau is not thrilled to leave his beloved Seattle. He thrives on the misty moist weather and lush green coastal forests, the waterways and the penthouse urban life of a large, bustling city. He has had to leave his Porsche 928 behind and is relegated to a 4 cylinder Kia Sportage mini SUV when he alights in Tucson. As he chugs his way through the mountains to the tiny village nestled in a deep valley between arid peaks he promptly discovers that his cell phone is in a telecommunications black hole.
The charms of the Sonoran desert and the historic mining town are lost on Beau, and he is further irritated when he discovers that he is strictly persona non grata and seen as a snoopy outsider on Sheriff Brady's stomping grounds. Sparks fly between the two, and their investigative styles are as opposite as their personalities. Beau, several years senior in age and experience, manages to keep his cool and remain in the background. He checks into the historic Copper Queen Hotel and starts looking around on his own, as Sheriff Brady and her staff provide him with only minimal information on the investigation.
Those familiar with Beau's background may remember his tragic romance and brief marriage to Anne Corey as a major storyline and subplot in most of the J. P. Beaumont books. What they might not recall is that Anne Corey was born and raised in Bisbee, so this journey becomes more than just a police investigation for Beau --- it is a painful journey to exorcise old ghosts.
Meanwhile, Joanna juggles job and family responsibilities as she valiantly tries to maintain her equilibrium among a new husband, a teenaged daughter, and the continued subterfuge of an ambitious under sheriff. Characteristically unsure of herself, she feels threatened by Beau's presence without allowing her misgivings to interfere with her investigation.
Jance always introduces underlying themes to her novels, and PARTNER IN CRIME is no departure from that style. Relationships, politics, and current events are woven into the plot. In this outing, a new and very dangerous, deadly and easily available poison is exposed. It will be interesting to see if action on disposal of the deadly substance follows from the red flag raised by Jance.
As an author known for establishing a sense of place, this book allows Jance to explore her past and her present. She was born and raised around Bisbee, Arizona and now lives in Seattle. Her love-hate relationship with the desert, and especially Bisbee, is apparent through Beau's eyes. It will be interesting to see how PARTNER IN CRIME plays in this historic, crumbling artists' colony.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on August 6, 2002