It's always a treat to open a new Joanna Brady novel! Author Jance keeps getting better, maintaining suspense right to the end, melding elements of past volumes with Joanna's present.
Authors who marry off their heros take a risk: our edgy favorites tend to get tamer and we lose the twists and turns of romance. Jance has avoided this trap by giving Joanna a husband, Butch, who in turn gives her space while introducing his own set of obnoxious parents.
Joanna investigates two crimes: the killing of Bradley Evans, an ex-con found in a gruesome state, and a violent attack on an over-eager female animal control officer.
From the prologue, many readers will be way ahead of Joanna and her staff as she investigates the first murder. Although Joanna gets clues from her father's newly-found diaries, she rightly uses her own detective skills to elicit the truth from present-day witnesses. The second crime gets treated more like a police procedural than a detective story, allowing a very pregnant Joanna to combine her commonsense, human empathy and professional police skills.
Two odd notes in the book: Why does this family have to be so nice to the in-laws? OK, perhaps a good daughter is expected to tolerate an occasional snide reference to her looks or appearance, maybe even her child-rearing. But no family should allow any visitor to insult disabled people or dogs. Visitors who snoop should be directed to their trailer (or the nearest motel) with access to the home only when the family is present. Teenaged Jenny has the right idea.
Joanna also seems surprised to find a lesbian couple right under her nose in Bisbee. I spent four years in Silver City, New Mexico, just over the border, where gay couples lived openly and, for most of the town, it was no big deal. Everybody socialized together most of the time. I've heard Bisbee is more conservative, and police officers in most locations tend to traditional views.
So while these minor twists seemed odd to be, it's possible that Jance has captured the values and belief systems of the folks she portrays, who are indeed different from many of her readers.