August 30, 2010

Jance's Tohono O'odham mysteries

Mystery writer J.A. Jance has written a series of Native mysteries that I haven't read. Here's the first one:

Hour of the HunterFrom Publishers Weekly

Drawing on Native American life and lore as it describes the hunt for the killer of a Papago Indian girl, Jance's contemporary novel delivers suspense through rich layers of flashbacks and gritty characterization.

From Kirkus Reviews

A hodgepodge hardcover debut in which two Native American medicine men, an Arizona lawman, a young widow and her son, and a Papago basket-weaver/wise woman are inexorably drawn into confrontation with the evil ohb. ... Disconcerting time shifts and a plethora of Papago parables (can anyone outdo Tony Hillerman?) fail to disguise the fact that this is nothing more than potboiler melodrama, with the hapless reader bombarded first by the lurid, then by the mystical.
And the most recent one:

Books:  Queen of page turners

By Kimberly NicolettiHer latest novel, “Queen of the Night,” is the fourth in the Walker family series, but even if you've never heard of the Walkers, Jance's multilayered book will capture you from the minute you start reading the prologue, packed with a Native American legend, and secrets and murders that span decades.And:Tension continues throughout the book as the crimes unravel and threaten familial relationships. Perhaps her stories are so riveting and convincing because she spent several years living on a reservation near Tucson, and while she was there, she and her first husband became targets of a serial killer. Luckily, police caught him before he struck.

Tony Hillerman fans are well advised to delve into Jance's novels, if they haven't already. She crafts stories based on a foundation of Native American culture and delivers them to a modern and complex world. In fact, she dedicates “Queen of the Night” to Hillerman.
Mystery novelist J.A. Jance to visit Flagstaff

By Seth MullerQ:  Speaking of which, you use mythology and characters of the Tohono O'odham (toe-ho-no ode-ham) in "Queen of the Night." What inspired you to explore this culture and use it in the story?

A:  I spent five years as a K-12 librarian on the reservation. The stories I told of the storyteller. The things about legends and myths is that they apply across all cultures and backgrounds. In "Hour of the Hunter," I was writing the story of a woman who wanted to be a writer so much she was neglecting her children. Once I decided to weave myths and legends into the background of the books, I found those connections. Of all of my books, the first Walker book, "Hour of the Hunter," is my own personal favorite.

Starred Review

Jance's masterful handling of a complex cast of characters makes it easy for the reader to appreciate the intricate web of relationships that bind them across generations. The title refers to the night-blooming Cereus, a desert plant that blooms once a year and is of great symbolic importance to the Tohono. Jance, perhaps best known for her J.P. Beaumont series ("Fire and Ice," etc.), has crafted a mystery that Hillerman would be proud of and that her fans will love.

From Booklist

Tohono O'odham tales and culture, which permeate the book (reminiscent of Tony Hillerman), and the flower of the title, the beautiful and aromatic cereus, which blooms in the desert just one night each year, add appeal, but the awkward backstory gimmick and the lack of much narrative pulse make this a somewhat tepid entry from a best-selling author.
Comment:  Wow, Jance's mysteries are getting some mixed reviews. These are the kind of books I'd pick up if I found them at the library, but I wouldn't go out of my way to get.

For more on the subject, see Tohono O'odham Taught Sherlock Holmes and The Best Indian Books.

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