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    DEVIL'S CLAW by J. A. Jance (see her website)

    A Joanna Brady Mystery

    William Morrow, 2000

    Sheriff Joanna Brady of Cochise County really has her hands full this time. First there's the missing Native American teenager and her pet hawk. Then there's the woman shot and left to die in a ditch, who turns out to be the young girl's mother, recently released from an eight-year prison stint for killing her husband. There's Joanna's elderly neighbor, Clayton Rhodes, who dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances, leaving a daughter determined to blame Joanna. And all of this takes place during the week preceding Joanna's long-awaited wedding to Butch--which brings with it its own set of aggravations, including a controlling mother, a daughter who's feeling threatened, and an impending first-time meeting with difficult in-laws.

    As always, J.A. Jance (see more reviews of mysteries by Jance) creates a vivid and realistic picture of law enforcement in the rugged but harsh Cochise County and a set of characters so real they could be your neighbors or relatives. Her portrayals of the inherent conflicts in the multi-cultural world of the Southwest ring true. The plot felt a bit scattered, however, and the author could have gone farther with some of the elements. Every time I started to really feel sucked in by a threat or a danger (such as when Joanna faces a possible FBI investigation for her role in her neighbor's death), the author doesn't take it to the limit and instead jerks us back to safer territory.

    Still, for Joanna Brady fans, the book is a pleasant enough visit with old friends, and the well-crafted prose a pleasure to read.

    Two Stars

    Purchase DEVIL'S CLAW from (available in hardback).