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Paradise Lost    by J. A. Jance order for
Paradise Lost
by J. A. Jance
Order:  USA  Can
Avon, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

A new entry in J. A Jance's Joanna Brady series is always a treat. The books, set in rural, southern Arizona, feature the feisty young sheriff Brady and are always well-plotted. A real bonus in reading this series (8 previous books) is finding out what has happened to the extended network of characters. Jance has created a diverse set of people, all multi-dimensional and believable. No character is perfect, including Joanna and her cantankerous mother Eleanor. Anyone with a real life mother-daughter relationship will enjoy reading about the struggles between the strong-willed Joanna and her domineering, meddlesome mother.

When the series started in Desert Heat, Joanna worked in an insurance agency and was married to Sheriff Andy Brady. Early in that novel Andy was killed and Joanna, although only in her early 30's, stepped in to fill his role and was then re-elected. This is not as unlikely as it might sound, since her deceased father was also sheriff giving Joanna some second-hand experience. Also she is a resourceful woman raised on a ranch. It has been great fun for me to see her evolve through the series and gain confidence in her abilities. In addition, we have seen her weather grief and eventually re-marry, while being sheriff and mothering a young daughter. While much of this is going on, she meets resentment as the boss in a mostly male sheriff's department and as the only female sheriff in Arizona. Along the way she has also battled interfering politicians and journalists. Watching her succeed has been a pleasure.

In Paradise Lost, a series of seemingly related murders happens in a short time in Joanna's county, with the first body found by her daughter Jennifer on a Girl Scout camping trip. The subsequent murder of the girl who accompanied Jennifer when she found the body has Joanna terrified that her daughter will be the next target. As always with a Brady novel, Joanna is drawn into the actual detection work. Her department is small and she is very much a hands-on boss. There is enough action to cause ordinary people several nervous breakdowns, but Sheriff Brady is made of strong stuff.

In this book, Joanna reaches a crossroads in her life, since she must decide whether to run for re-election. The job definitely takes a toll on her life, her new marriage and her daughter, as it did on her own childhood with a sheriff father. I was eagerly anticipating her decision which of course determines whether there will be more very enjoyable Joanna Brady mysteries.

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