I've read a few of J.A. Jance's "J.P. Beaumont" books, but I've never read anything else by her. That changed when I picked up Cruel Intent, her latest Ali Reynolds book. Taking a chance, I cracked open the book on my last vacation, wondering what to expect. One day later, I put it down fully satisfied (keep in mind that, on vacation, I did more than just read). I had a lot of trouble putting it down to do other things.
Ex-television journalist Ali Reynolds is working on her latest project: fixing up and rebuilding a house that she inherited in one of the previous Reynolds novels. Her contractor, Bryan Forester, seems like a really nice guy. Naturally, that makes him the prime suspect when his wife is brutally murdered. Reynolds stands by her opinion of Forester as the authorities close in. Her attempts to find out what really happened take her to a website for lonely married people - singleatheart.com - and puts her square in the sights of a sinister hacker who enjoys the game of "Love 'em and leave 'em," though in his case he makes sure the women leave everybody else as well. Will Ali become his next target?
Another of Janceís page-turners, Cruel Intentís plot and prose style keep readers glued to the page. As with most established mystery/suspense series, Jance has populated Ali's world with a bunch of quirky and well-written characters, from her on-again/off-again sheriff boyfriend to a computer security expert/hacker who joins her in the quest to track down what's behind SingleAtHeart. Of course, she has family issues, and her parents are the quirkiest characters in the bunch. Throw those ingredients into the pot, add the spice of an insane villain, stir gently, and you've got a winning concoction that will please most mystery readers.
The book is definitely a "suspense" novel rather than a mystery, as we are introduced to the villain quite early in the book. The joy of reading here lies in seeing how the villain works and how Reynolds is able to outmaneuver him. This approach allows you to see the dance of two opposing sides as they both try to succeed in their goals.
The most likeable character, as I'm sure Jance intended, easily has to be Ali's mother. She's nosy, stubborn, blunt, never afraid to open her mouth (even when it's best to shut it) and a fabulous baker. There's no problem in the world that a good pie or other kind of food can't solve, and that's her solution to most problems. While she's mostly comic relief, she shows near the end of the book (and perhaps more often in the previous Ali Reynolds books) that she's quick on the uptake and very intelligent. She catches on to Ali's plan immediately, and I gained a new respect for her after that. It's nice when the comical characters also show a dash of brains.
The only problem I found with Cruel Intent is that everything's a bit too coincidental. This is a problem with many suspense novels, and even mysteries, but it just goes too far this time around. It's just a happy coincidence that Forester's wife is the one who has been cheating on him and ends up murdered, and that he's working for Ali, who happens to be a former journalist who will stick her nose into somebody's business if she can help. She just happens to have a computer savant as a friend helping with her Internet security, and she also just happens to have a cop as her sometimes boyfriend.
Another small problem - with this genre more broadly - is that I'm getting a bit tired of the independently wealthy protagonist in these types of novels. It seems that every book I pick up, the main character can just go off on a whim or thrown down $100 without even thinking about it. Granted, being independently wealthy also allows them to have their days all to themselves so they have the time to butt into other people's business. I know this is a staple of the genre and wonít soon go away, but it's frustrating sometimes.
Overall, Cruel Intent, is a great read for suspense fans. Jance's prose is excellent, I love the characters she has created, and the plot hangs together pretty tightly. It will keep you reading long after you feel like you should have turned off the lights.