Review

Cruel Intent

by J. A. Jance

After resigning from her job as an investigative television
reporter and becoming a widow while in the process of divorcing her
husband, Ali Reynolds has returned to her roots in Sedona, Arizona.
When her odious agent hears that she purchased Arabella
Ashcroft’s desperately-in-need-of-repair Victorian manse, he
talks her into using the project as the theme for a “reality
show.” He pressures Ali into agreeing to do the program by
promising that her house would be the first whole house makeover
for the pilot episode. But he doesn’t fool Ali, who has been
his client “forever.” She thinks he probably is going
to find an insignificant role for her and boost the career of a new
face as host --- a male one.

Nevertheless, she agrees. The film crew shadows the renovation
crew with a camera, and they seem to have their own agenda. They
hope to find some “hot item” they can sell for their
own reasons. And of course, a battle erupts every so often when the
cameras are in the way or the builders are not quite worrying about
the next close-up. But overall, production moves along its
slow-paced path. And though they are slightly behind schedule, Ali
hasn’t pressed the panic button as CRUEL INTENT by J.A. Jance
opens.

Just painting a room in one’s house can be stressful, but
a complete overhaul is more than stressful --- it’s like
being on an out-of-control rollercoaster while riding upside down.
But Ali is an optimistic and pragmatic person who is willing to put
up with the chaos because she is eager for the house to become a
home as soon as possible and wants to have Thanksgiving in her new
digs. To her good fortune, when she purchased the house, she
inherited Leland Brooks, the Ashcroft butler who sees Ali as a bird
with a broken wing and is determined to heal her. She lives with
her son, a teacher in a nearby high school, who just became engaged
to a colleague. The two young people add a breath of fresh life to
a narrative that soon becomes very strange. Ali’s parents are
alive, well and happy as their restaurant, which is the central
meeting place for all the townspeople.

The action picks up when homicide detective Dave Holman tears
into the middle of the parked vehicles that sit like abandoned
settlements beside the construction site. When Ali stands to greet
him, she is shocked by the expression on his face. He rudely asks
for the whereabouts of Bryan Forrester, the general contractor on
the job. When Bryan appears, he delivers the news that
Bryan’s wife, Morgan, is dead --- brutally murdered on the
lawn outside their house --- and that his little twin girls found
her when they got home from school. Bryan immediately asks about
his children and is informed that they are at the police station.
Ali can barely take the words in and doesn’t understand why
the sheriff is being so harsh and cruel as he pushes the stricken
man into the back seat of the police cruiser. From where she
stands, Ali thinks Bryan looks very much like a guilty man on his
way to police headquarters.

Bryan is questioned and then released by law enforcement to make
his way back to the construction site. He tells Ali that they have
a problem with her $30,000 custom-made kitchen cabinets. The
company didn’t receive the agreed-upon half payment, so they
never started making the cupboards. Since Ali gave the builder the
money months ago, she is stunned. He tells her that he had trusted
his wife to do the books for years and never really oversaw that
end of the business. Only now does he discover that she’s
been embezzling funds for a long time, thus setting him on a rapid
ride into bankruptcy. He needs Ali to trust him and pay him the
rest of the money now; if not, she will end up months behind on her
house and he will be out of business. Along with the hijacked cash,
Morgan has been embroiled in several extra-marital affairs. She has
milked him dry, expected to take off with one of her men, and
instead she now lies dead in the morgue. Bryan becomes the perfect
patsy, especially when the sheriff finds a bloody hammer in the bed
of his pickup truck --- another nail in a perfect frame job.

As the investigation gains momentum, the sheriff learns that
other women have been killed under similar circumstances and the
body count is much higher than anyone thought. No one knows if more
women have been killed by this same man and just have not been
found yet. The murderer certainly has “issues,” but we
don’t get to know much about him. The plot centers on Ali and
her way of getting involved in everyone’s business --- very
much like her mother. CRUEL INTENT has its moments of shining
brightness, and Jance fans will love it. While not great
literature, it’s a good story told by an experienced and
careful writer.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 13, 2011

Cruel Intent
by J. A. Jance

  • Publication Date: December 2, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1416563792
  • ISBN-13: 9781416563792