I've been reading J.A. Jance for a number of years, following her Joanna Brady series, but funnily enough have never read any of the other three series she writes. Her latest book Deadly Stakes is the eighth entry in the Ali Reynolds mystery series.
The opening chapters of Deadly Stakes were quite detailed (and folksy), filling in the background of many recurring characters and the goings-on in their lives. For someone who hadn't read the series, this was a good way to get to know the players. Ali is a reporter with ties to the police department as a reservist in Sedona, Arizona.
Ali is asked by the mother of a woman suspected of murdering her boyfriend's ex wife to look into her case. There is a bit of a connection with a past investigation of Ali's and the suspect herself has faith that Ali can help find the truth. The body of the murdered woman was found by a local teenager, who's keeping secrets of his own. And then another body, that of a convicted counterfeiter, is found nearby. Is there a connection between the two bodies?
Deadly Stakes (and Ali) rely upon a lot of coincidences, timely clues and fortuitous happening to solve the crime. "Wait, I almost forgot." or "You know all this how? A good buddy of mine works for them." Or interviewees 'spilling the beans' to Ali, who is calling herself a freelancer rather than a reporter. I found some of the plot stretched credibility, such as the chief of police asking Ali to investigate on the sly as he had misgivings about the prosecutor.
One of Jance's strengths is in the building and continuation of her character's lives. I truly do enjoy the Sheriff Joanna Brady character. Maybe it's because I started at the beginning and have followed along with each new entry, but I just find her genuinely likable. I can't say the same for Ali. All the right elements are there, but I just found her grating.
Deadly Stakes isn't a cozy mystery, but not a difficult whodunit either. It falls somewhere in the middle. I think readers who enjoy Catherine Coulter and Iris Johansen, for example, would enjoy this series.
Sorry Ali, I really do prefer the Sheriff Brady stories. But, Deadly Stakes was a good book to while away a sleepy Sunday on the couch. Read the prologue or chapter one of Deadly Stakes. Book groups there is a reading group guide available.
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