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    Review of HAND OF EVIL by J. A. Jance (see her website)


    Touchstone Books, December 2007

    Unemployed blogger Ali Reynolds can't say know when her friend's daughter vanishes. When the girl turns up, an apparent runaway, Ali takes it upon herself to straighten the girl out--taking away her phone, ordering her around, and threatening to leave her on the side of the road if she doesn't conform to Ali's rules--it's the kind of tough-love that Ali implicitly knows will get the girl behaving again. In the meantime, one of Ali's father's projects, a formerly homeless man, is beaten on the side of the road and the woman who once financed Ali's way through college demands that Ali drop everything and visit her--and then dumps a bombshell. Arabelle, she says, was repeatedly raped by her stepbrother. The stepbrother is dead, but now his son is blackmailing Arabelle and she wantes Ali's help.

    A mysterious beating, long-ago incest, and present-day runaway teens (with child sexual issues) might seem like enough to keep Ali fully occupied, especially when the young man behind the beating decides to become a celebrity by going on a killing spree. Jance loads the story further, though. In addition, though, one of Ali's regular blog readers has been diagnosed with cancer and is angry that the doctor, who just might be in cahoots with the woman's son, is refusing to treat her.

    Author J. A. Jance (see more reviews of novels by Jance) can be counted on to deliver a page-turning adventure and HAND OF EVIL is no exception. Jance's writing keeps the reader involved, wanting to find out what's going to happen to these people.

    Unfortunately, HAND OF EVIL is also badly flawed. I found Ali's bossy and overconfident treatment of the wounded runaway Crystal, to be insensitive and offensive. Crystal is clearly hurting, obviously running from something horrible, but Ali doesn't bother taking the time to find out what. Sending her back into the environment that she fled without an understanding of why it didn't work the first time seems doomed--and none of Ali's bossing around and intimidation is really likely to result in a change. From a logic perspective, I had a hard time understanding why Arabelle contacted Ali in the first place. The supposed reason, to look for advice on writing a book, is clearly false but we were never given another. The whole Arabelle subplot felt like something glued on to give us an incest threat (and a bit more physical danger for poor Ali). Finally, am I the only one who thought the coincidence of Crystal being a witness to Kip's beating was a bit of a stretch.

    Jance is a good enough writer to engage my interest, to make me keep reading in hopes that she'd finally pull things together--perhaps having Ali learn a lesson about being so sure she's right all the time. For me, though, this story didn't quite coalesce. Then there's the whole idea of being a full-time blogger. Are there really enough people in the world so lacking in their own lives that they'd pay to read Ali's?

    J. A. Jance is a great writer. HAND OF EVIL is a very long way from the top of her game.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 6/29/08

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