Seems like every city in the U.S. has it’s own mystery/cop series. J. A. Jance got the be the writer for Seattle’s series, starring J. P. Beaumont, an alcoholic homicide cop who comes into a bit of money. Until Proven Guilty, the first book in her series tells the story of how Beaumont comes into the money. Beaumont gets a case investigating the murder of a child. Beaumont fingers the wrong suspect, and a vigilante kills him. Also at the same time, Beaumont has a new partner going through his own divorce, and he meets Anne Corley at the girl’s funeral. Independently wealthy, Corley and Beaumont fall in love and quickly get married. A victim of abuse herself, she takes in interest in abused children, showing up at their funerals and trying to help families. Her own abuse inspired her to become a sociologist studying young victims of violent crime.
So, anyone see the coincidence there? Here’s the spoiler: Anne Corley is the vigilante. She’s really one messed up woman. But she’s altruistic, and feels the guilt after discovering that she’s killed the wrong person. Still, Beaumont must confront his wife, a vigilante killer he’s investigating. Which is how he comes into money for the later books.
I first read the book years ago, I think on the recommendation of my aunt, a librarian with the Seattle School District. She’d invited Ms. Jance to speak at the school and had all sorts of good things to say. In face, kind of likes to name-drop. I met Jance once at the Northwest Bookfest in 1999. She sat down at the table where my mother and I were eating lunch. Though my mother has also read her books she didn’t recognize her. I did, but it always feels kind of dumb to me to talk to someone about their work. They don’t really need my opinion. So I kept quiet. She looks like what she is, a middle-aged ex-housewife who could be into pottery and poetry.
The writing and story in this first book isn’t all that great. But it’s decent for bubblegum mystery. Jance has improved quite a bit over the years; her later books have a lot more nuance. The chapters are all short. According to her web site, it’s because she needed to fit the chapters into 15K on the word processor she used for writing in the early 80s. Because of that, they make for good vacation or bus reading, cause you can get a chapter read in 15 minutes. You are almost always within a page or two of a chapter end whenever an interruption occurs.