In Desert Heat, J.A. Jance introduces us to Joanna Brady, a happily married young woman who sells life insurance in the town of Bisbee, Arizona. Together with her husband, Andy, who is a Cochise County sheriff's deputy, and their bright 9-year old daughter, Joanna leads a comfortable and happy small-town life - comfortable and happy, that is, until the night of her tenth wedding anniversary when she finds her husband lying shot and near death in a desert ravine not far from home.
Almost before he is transported to the hospital, rumors begin to circulate that Andy is a good cop turned bad and that he tried to commit suicide rather than to risk having his shady dealings with drug smugglers exposed. Of course, Joanna doesn't believe any of the rumors and sets out on a mission to find the true story and to find Andy's attacker.
This series debut manages to successfully combine a cast of very believable and well-developed characters with an intriguing mystery and a unique setting. The "whodunit" is solved early on, but the reader is left trying to understand the "why" until nearly the end. The story unfolds at a steady pace and there is little fever-pitch action or edge-of-your-seat suspense; however, that's actually an advantage as it makes the story quite believable and is consistent with life in a small town like Bisbee. Despite the deliberate pace, plenty of surprises throughout do keep the reader guessing and turning the pages.
Desert Heat is a quick and enjoyable read for those who enjoy a good mystery set in the desert southwest. With such a strong debut, I've definitely become a Joanna Brady (and J.A. Jance) fan and am looking forward to reading the other books in the series.