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Dead Wrong    by J. A. Jance order for
Dead Wrong
by J. A. Jance
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

J. A. Jance - no stranger to fans of suspense-filled, character-driven, deftly plotted mysteries - has written dozens of well-received novels including seventeen J. P. Beaumont mysteries and eleven Joanna Brady mysteries. Now, in another adventure in starkly beautiful Cochise Country, Arizona, the resourceful and fascinating Sheriff Joanna Brady returns in J. A. Jance's latest: Dead Wrong.

All the familiar characters are here again. Butch, Joanna's husband, is busily engaged in promoting his first mystery novel. Eleanor Lathrop Winfield, Joanna's mother, continues to be 'one of the most difficult people on Earth.' Other returning characters include Dr. George Winfield, the local medical examiner and Joanna's stepfather; thirteen-year-old Jenny, Joanna's daughter; and, of course, there are Joanna's colleagues at the sheriff's department - Jaime Carbajal, Ernie Carpenter, Dave Hollicker, Tica Romero, and Frank Montoya. Two other visiting characters who arrive unannounced in their RV at Butch's and Joanna's High Lonesome Ranch also deserve mention: Donald and Margaret Dixon (Butch's father and mother, the latter being the mother-in-law whom Joanna not-so-fondly refers to as 'a ring-tailed bitch').

So, with all of these and plenty of other people surrounding her, with all of the responsibilities of being sheriff in a vast southern border county, and with her pregnancy nearing the very end of the final trimester, Joanna has been keeping quite busy (even though a lot of people are urging - or actually pestering - the red-haired, hot-tempered expectant mother to slow down and take it easy). Then, however, things get complicated, and Joanna suddenly has her hands full with one of her most baffling cases.

A dead body wrapped in a tarp is found along the roadside in the southern end of the county near the U.S./Mexico border. The unidentified man in his mid-to-late 50s with lots of cheap dental work and a homegrown tattoo ('One Day at a Time') was found without any identification and - most notably - without his ten fingers which had been cut off after his death. Somebody obviously did not want this man identified.

Some preliminary investigation soon reveals that the dead man may have at one time been a convict in the Arizona prison system. Recently paroled, the murdered man - as facts begin to surface - was apparently Bradley Evans, and he may have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned more than 25 years earlier. And, as Joanna gradually discovers, the man who had then arrested Evans was her now deceased father: Sheriff D. H. Lathrop. So, attempting to find out who murdered Bradley Evans, and attempting to find out the truth behind her father's involvement in Evans's arrest, conviction, and imprisonment, Joanna begins to follow an increasingly dangerous trail of clues - through the past and the present - that will take her through plenty of twists and turns to some very disturbing discoveries.

I dare not say more about the plot and action of Dead Wrong, but I will close by saying this: As is always the case in a J. A. Jance novel, readers are in for a real treat because Dead Wrong is yet another of Jance's fast-paced, character-rich mysteries guaranteed to keep readers thoroughly entertained. It's worth noting that the author once again makes a little bit of room in her plot for some of her hot button issues - alcoholism and recovery, the fight against cancer, and the humane treatment of animals - but those personal issues, as always, are never obtrusive or distracting simply because Jance is the kind of solid professional who knows how to build her novels on the strongest of foundations: great plotting, compelling characterizations, and plenty of suspense.

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