I love book titles that carry multiple meanings, especially when the title can apply equally to so many facets of the novel yet not seem completely obvious until after the fact. Betrayal of Trust, J.A. Jance's latest J.P. Beaumont mystery novel, is a perfect example: there are so many trust issues in the book that I can't imagine any other title for it. Thankfully, the book is worth reading, too, though it boasts an extremely horrible beginning.
Beaumont and his "new" wife Melanie (this book apparently takes place about three years after Long Time Gone, the novel in which they met) are officers of Washington State's "Special Homicide Investigation Team" (yes, they get the joke about the acronym a lot), a unit created and run by the state Attorney General. Beaumont and Mel are called in to investigate a video message sent to the grandson of the governor's husband who has been living in the governor's mansion. In the video, a young girl takes part in a “choking game" that turns all too real. In trying to track down the victim and determine whether the young boy is involved, Beaumont and Mel find themselves unwinding a sticky web of adolescence gone wrong.
Budding writers, especially those who submit unsolicited stories to magazine slush readers, are always advised to hook their readers with the first sentence or first page of a story. Otherwise, they are told, the story will be set aside and the reader will move on to something else.
Jance devotes the first six pages of Betrayal of Trust to giving readers a view of Mel and J.P.'s domestic life on a regular morning before going to work. It serves as a good reintroduction to Mel for fans who remember her but don't really remember a lot about her. Even as a fan, though, these six pages bored me to tears. If I hadn't already been a fan and known that it would definitely get better, I may have put the book down, too—it’s like fishing with a bare piece of string hanging in the water.
Once the story starts moving, though, Jance's usual style wins through, and the plot she builds is an engaging one. Like most mysteries, things are never quite what they appear to be at the beginning, but I liked the road that Jance travels in this book. While very topical book, Betrayal of Trust is also timeless in the sense that this problem will probably never truly go away.
In the process, Jance creates a number of three-dimensional characters who feel real and are interesting to read about. The governor and her husband, the grandson who just wants to fit in, the family of the murdered girl—all are very well-written. This added depth makes the mystery even better, because it's not obvious who the bad guys are.
A detective series is made or broken by the main characters, though, and Jance continues to shine with Beaumont in the lead as well as adding Mel to the mix. It’s still Beaumont's story; we don't get anything from Mel's point of view, but she is an effective character who obviously loves Beaumont. She's also a good investigator. The two play off each other well, adding to the interest level of the book.
Ultimately, Betrayal of Trust is about class distinctions and what is done with them. We get that from Beaumont himself as he remembers the governor from school, when she had her nose in the air and he was from the wrong side of the tracks. This dichotomy continues to play out today, with the young characters split between the two sides. Beaumont weighs these attitudes in his head as he becomes more familiar with the other characters (the governor earns a couple of points of respect when he hears that she agreed to take the young boy in when his mother became unable to care for him, loses a point when he sees her attitude towards him, then gains another point for something else). This mannerism can be a bit annoying after a while, but it isn't that big an issue.
Betrayal of Trust is a great look at the timeless stresses of adolescence and how those tensions can lead to victimhood and even murder. Well-written except for the beginning, this is a must-read for any Jance fan, and even a good place to start for those unfamiliar with Jance. Just don’t let the first chapter or so affect your feelings about continuing.