Ring in the Dead, by JA Jance ****

ringinthedeadJance is a matriarch in the world of detective novels, or in this case, the novella. She has four different series that she prodigiously juggles and maintains. The others take place in Arizona and don’t interest me as much as this series, her first, whose protagonist is a Seattle cop named JP Beaumont.

It takes a good writer to make me buy the premise here, namely that the SPD are mostly hard-working, good-hearted citizens who joined the police department out of a sense of civic duty. The reality is very different; Seattle’s cop force was recently named the most violent in the entire USA. Cops here are legendary for their gratuitous use of brute force. They develop vendettas against individual citizens. My own middle-class neighborhood recently met with the chief of police to let him know that we are comfortable policing ourselves, and he can take those cops he says are too few to do the job, and assign them somewhere else. Anywhere else. Please. Just get them out of here!

So while the FBI knocks its collective head against the brick wall of SPD intransigence, trying to find some way to rein in these mad dogs before the city goes completely nuts and becomes another Ferguson, I read this engaging little novella, and for the brief time it lasted—a single evening—I could forget reality and buy Jance’s premise of brother officers doing good things. That isn’t easy to do.

The fifth star is denied simply because of the brevity of the work. There must surely be a definition that separates the short story from the novella, but I am darned if I know what it is. When reading a digital work it’s not a bad idea to skip to the ending first, so you’ll know when it’s coming. I was glad I did that, because this one ended 67% of the way through its brief length. A full third of its space was devoted to plugging another novel. (I was too annoyed by this to remember the title of the work-to-come, so I guess the teaser didn’t work for me.)

The novella focuses on a long-ago case when Beau was a newly-promoted detective. His partner, known as Pickles, died of a heart attack, and his daughter found some papers when she was cleaning out the family home. She comes to talk to Beau and to give him the papers, which relate to a case he had worked. In a nut shell, the story reminds us that time is short, and that we should spend ours on things that count.

I look forward to Jance’s next Beaumont novel. I just hope it’s full length. I obtained this novella from our public library, but if I had paid for it, I would have felt robbed. Get it free or cheap, or keep your plastic put away.

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