As Night Falls
Ballantine Books, June 2015
From the publisher—
Sandy Tremont has always tried to give her family everything. But, as the sky darkens over the Adirondacks and a heavy snowfall looms, an escaped murderer with the power to take it all away draws close.
In her isolated home in the shadowy woods, Sandy prepares dinner after a fight with her daughter, Ivy. Upstairs, the fifteen-year-old—smart, brave, and with every reason to be angry tonight—keeps her distance from her mother. Sandy’s husband, Ben, a wilderness guide, arrives late to find a home simmering with unease.
Nearby, two desperate men on the run make their way through the fading light, bloodstained and determined to leave no loose ends or witnesses. After almost twenty years as prison cellmates, they have become a deadly team: Harlan the muscle, Nick the mind and will. As they approach a secluded house and look through its windows to see a cozy domestic scene, Nick knows that here he will find what he’s looking for . . . before he disappears forever.
Opening the door to the Tremont home, Nick brings not only a legacy of terror but a secret that threatens to drag Sandy with him into the darkness.
As Night Falls is Jenny Milchman‘s third book set in the Adirondacks area and, with this book, she confirms that no one does a better job at making the weather a major character. The middle book doesn’t really have that focus but Cover of Snow and As Night Falls are simply brilliant in their evocation of bonecrushing cold, enhanced by depths of snow that I’ll never see here in Virginia. And the snow never seems to go away, making me feel as though I’m buried in a snowbank with no hope of escape. And, yet, I’m driven to keep reading because I know the author is going to make it worth my while.
In As Night Falls, Ms. Milchman introduces a new element that I find as compelling as the weather and that’s the house. I just cannot imagine a house that would unnerve me as much as this one does. The heavy silence from room to room, the knowledge that no one would hear if something went wrong with the building or one of the residents had an accident, such as falling down the stairs, or intruders forced their way in is mindboggling to me. I don’t get the allure at all and, if I were Sandy Tremont, I’d have to question my husband’s sanity in wanting to live in such a house, especially when it’s out in the boonies where you can’t even hope that a passerby might notice that something is wrong.
Ah, but this is the beauty of Ms. Milchman‘s work, the ability to make her readers so uncomfortable that they must go on to find out how—or if—her characters will find a way to survive. Where Sandy is concerned, the house and the weather make her circumstances even more frightening than they would have been anyway.
Sandy herself is an interesting woman even before we know the truth of her past. I did find her more than a bit ingenuous, thinking that she could escape it forever, but I understood her wanting to once I knew the facts. Still, although Sandy is the purported focus of the story, it’s Ivy that I really came to love. This girl is just like every other teenaged girl who loves her parents but is trying to find her own place in the world and is fighting to be seen as capable of making her own choices. Ivy resonated with me in many ways, not least of which is the connection she forms with one of the bad guys and her sense of betrayal when she learns her mother’s secret.
Then there are the bad guys. They’re both surprising in that Nick intends to be vindictive and vicious but seems to be a little reluctant while Harlan is sort of a very damaged child with remnants of his once-caring soul. He is a tragedy all by himself. When these two men invade the Tremont home, life will change forever for everyone involved and, between beginning and end, the suspense grabs the reader by the throat. Well done, Ms. Milchman!
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.
Dance of the Bones
A J. P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker Novel
J. A. Jance
William Morrow, September 2015
From the publisher—
Years ago, Amos Warren, a prospector, was gunned down out in the desert and Sheriff Brandon Walker made the arrest in the case. Now, the retired Walker is called in when the alleged killer, John Lassiter, refuses to accept a plea deal that would release him from prison with time served. Lassiter wants Brandon and The Last Chance to find Amos’s “real” killer and clear his name.
Sixteen hundred miles to the north in Seattle, J.P. Beaumont is at loose ends after the Special Homicide Investigation Team, affectionately known as S.H.I.T., has been unexpectedly and completely disbanded. When Brandon discovers that there are links between Lassiter’s case and an unsolved case in Seattle, he comes to Beau for help.
Those two cases suddenly become hot when two young boys from the reservation, one of them with close ties to the Walker family, go missing. Can two seasoned cops, working together, decipher the missing pieces in time to keep them alive?
I’ve enjoyed J. A. Jance‘s books for a long time, especially the ones featuring J.P. Beaumont, but hadn’t tried her Brandon Walker series so I thought Dance of the Bones would be a great way to “meet” Walker while spending a little time with Beau. As things turned out, I sort of bought into their collaboration but, on the whole, it didn’t work as well for me as it could have.
The core of the story is a good one, linking a murder from years past to an ongoing case and also linking two very different locales. The introduction of a group that investigates cold cases off the books is an extra added attraction but I think it also might be at the root of my general discontent because there are just too many people involved to keep track of. Throw in a missing persons case and there’s way too much going on, making things rather cumbersome.
I did like the time Beau is on the page but there’s not enough of him and he actually could have been left out without causing much harm to the tale. As for Brandon Walker, I like him and I like his involvement with The Last Chance so I do intend to go back to the beginning and read more about the Walker family. I should note also that I enjoy learning about Native American lore but a little goes a long way and there was just a bit too much of it in Dance of the Bones, to the point of being distracting.
When all is said and done, the mystery parts of the novel kept me interested but they were overshadowed by the weaknesses I’ve mentioned. I’ll say, however, that every author makes the occasional misstep and, for me, this one was it but I think many readers will be very pleased with this outing. As for me, I’ll look forward with great anticipation to Ms. Jance‘s next book, Clawback, which happens to be in the Ali Reynolds series and is due out in March 2016. While I wait for that one, though, I think I’ll check out No Honor Among Thieves, the novella that brings Ali and Joanna Brady together. Maybe this alliance will suit me better 😉
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.