Collateral Damage is the 17th book in the Ali Reynolds mystery series by J.A. Jance. My thanks go to Net Galley and Gallery Books for the review copy; this book is for sale now.
As fans of the series know, Ali is married to B. Simpson, and together they run a small but increasingly prominent cybersecurity firm called High Noon, appropriately named given their Arizona home base. In this installment, B. is on his way to the airport when he’s run off the road. He and the man driving him are badly injured, and the police take the lazy way out, assuming that Ali is behind the crime. Who could better benefit from his death? The business is worth a lot of money, not to mention B’s fat life insurance policy. Soon Ali and her trusted High Noon employees investigate, assisted once more by Frigg, the nearly sentient AI that can go where no one is supposed to go, and find out things that aren’t legally obtainable.
Jance is a veteran mystery writer, and she’s produced bestselling novels for decades. This time around, the novel is better than what most authors can do on their best days, and yet it’s not Jance’s most riveting story. The pacing is on the sedate side, and it’s not until we are well and truly at the climax that it feels urgent. I suspect this is because the story’s protagonist, Ali, and the other repeating characters that I have enjoyed so much over the past few years are sidelined here. Once Frigg ferrets out the critical information that suggests that the crime is the work of a longtime serial killer, Ali provides the cops whose unsolved cases are involved, and we mostly follow them, alternately with the baddie.
A side note, but one worth mentioning: Jance has a couple of long-running series that are set in Arizona, and there have been times when I’ve reported that I dislike the tinge of stereotyping that I have seen in the way her Latinx and Black side characters are depicted. I feel as if she’s turned that around here, and having registered complaints in the past, it’s only fair to recognize that this time, she’s done well.
Fans of the series will want to read this in order to enjoy continuity between the last, Unfinished Business, and whatever she writes next. For new readers, I advise beginning the series with number 11, Clawback. Going back to the first entry—which of course, you can do—requires reading the series before it develops into a strong vehicle. If you start the series here instead, you will have the information you need to move forward, and the quality is as uniformly excellent as any other series I have read.
I recommend this book to Jance’s readers, and I recommend it to new readers as suggested above.