Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trial by Fire, J. A. Jance

Trial by Fire: A Novel of Suspense When I went to the library this week, I just couldn't resist picking up a new-to-me J. A. Jance and this one is as good as, if not better, than all of the others I've read. It's the fourth novel in the Ali Reynolds series.

As usual, Jance grabbed me with the first page which begins, "She awakened to the sound of roaring flames and to searing heat and lung-choking smoke. Maybe she was already dead and this was hell, but why would she go to hell?"

The woman realizes finally that she is alive because she knows her leg is burning. Something, a beam maybe, is holding her leg down and when she tries to move it, her hand catches fire too. This poor woman doesn't know how she got there or why, where "there" is, or even who she is. Then she sees a creature coming through the flames. He's yellow or possibly orange and he picks her up to carry her away. She thinks he's Satan and she is in hell after all, but of course he's a fireman who has entered the burning house under construction and saved her.

She awakens in the hospital in horrible pain which disappears into a cloud only when a kind nun pushes the button to give her a dose of morphine. The nun seems always to be there.

Meanwhile, Ali Reynolds has been recruited to be a temporary media relations consultant for the Yavapai Sheriff's Department in Prescott. She lives in Sedona but won't have to go to Prescott very often. Trouble is, her predecessor has been fired and no one in the department wants her there. She is called out to the fire to handle the media and at the site she notices someone has painted ELF in giant letters on one of the burning houses in this new development. The Environmental Liberation Front is an echo of a real life group that has made headlines in the western states for the last two decades or more so this is drawn right from the headlines.

Ali follows the victim to the hospital in Phoenix where she is asked to stay in the waiting room to see what develops, and incidentally to protect the victim because the person who tried to kill her is still at large and for that matter, unknown. She discovers, as I have many times, that if you sit quietly in a hospital waiting room reading (or in her case typing on a laptop), you sort of disappear into the woodwork as far as other visitors are concerned. She also becomes a confidante of Sister Anselm, the caregiver for the victim.

This wonderful story grabbed me by the collar yesterday, got me through an evening when my husband insisted on watching American Idol (ugh), and wouldn't let me go today until I finished it. The characters are real as life, and although I figured out whodunit before the end, it certainly didn't spoil finding out how Ali solved it or what became of the characters at the end. I do recommend this suspense novel.

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