Long Time Gone is another J.P. Beaumont mystery by J.A. Jance. Set in Seattle (one of the seriesí draws for me), Beaumont has gone from police detective to part of the Special Homicide Investigation Team (with an unfortunate acronym which gets brought up quite often) for the state of Washington. For some reason, the Jance books I have read always seem to be the ones where Beaumont makes a monumental change in his life, and this one is no different. Thatís another draw for me, as I like it when characters change, circumstances are adjusted, and nobody remains static.
Beaumont gets involved in two cases this time, one by assignment and one by friendship. A middle-aged nun unexpectedly recalls what happened fifty years ago that traumatized her to this day: she witnessed a neighborís murder and hasnít been able to remember anything about it until now. This would not be that big of a deal, because most of the participants are almost dead (and some are dead already), but the co-conspirators happen to be prominent members of the Seattle community, and they will go to any effort to cover up their crime, no matter how long ago it was. Secondly, Beaumontís former partner, Ron Peters, is the prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife. Beaumont cannot help getting involved, despite being ordered not to, because the ties of friendship are very tight. Beau has to tap dance very carefully in both of these cases, and if he makes one misstep, it may be his last.
While the events of the two cases do end up intertwining, they are unrelated. In a lot of clichťd mysteries, Ronís wife would have ended up stumbling upon something to do with the murders the nun saw. That isnít the case here. Characters do become involved in both (the nun comes with Beau to Ronís house and helps deal with one of Ronís daughters, and the female detective who Beau starts falling for, who is investigating Ron, ends up helping with the nunís case), but they remain separate issues.
Another great thing about the book, and the series in general, is the way that Jance draws the characters. Beau, being the hero, is the most three-dimensional. He is still coming to terms with his wifeís death even though it happened a long time ago. He finds his growing attraction to Melanie very hard to deal with as he still feels the ties to his wife. The fact that they work very well together just makes it harder, and there are the typical bumps in the road in their growing relationship. The story is told in Beauís first person, but Melanie is still three-dimensional, with Jance giving us little touches like her addiction to talk radio. And given that addiction, it was nice to see Jance avoid the stereotype of the typical ďconservative.Ē Mel is actually quite a likable character, and I loved seeing the developing relationship between the two of them. They are mature individuals, who donít hop in the sack at the first sign of attraction, and that was nice, too.
The other characters are given as much depth as they deserve, with some (Ronís family) getting a lot, and others, who are only in the book for a couple of scenes, getting just enough so they are not cardboard. The various suspects and those involved in the cases are also well-done, giving us enough information that we can make our own conclusions about whether they would be capable of committing the murders. In fact, I donít think there is a character misstep in the book at all. Theyíre all interesting in one way or another. The only minor annoyance was Beauís old boss at the Seattle Police Department, who was just a bit over the top in his antagonism toward Beau (and everybody else). That is a long-standing character trait for him, so itís fruitless to hope that it would change here, but he has always been my least favorite character.
The mysteries are both intriguing, and Jance hops between them with a lot of skill. Itís interesting how the fifty-year-old murder trail is pretty cold, but things start to heat up when itís discovered that somebody is trying to open it again; when people start dying again, it positively burns. Jance does touch briefly on Beau reflecting on the fact that these peopleís deaths are directly caused by his meddling in the case as a long-dormant hornetís nest is stirred once again. Meanwhile, Jance handles Ronís case well too, showcasing the close relationship Beau has with Ronís daughters, almost as a treasured uncle. What really happens in Ronís case is tragic, highlighting the effects that family strife can have on young girls (or young people in general). The final revelation about the killerís past is a little bit ďyeah right,Ē but itís not too bad. Once you know, you can see how Jance has laid the clues for it, so at least it doesnít come out of the blue. Both are interesting, though, and I never wanted Jance to move back to the one when the other was ďon screen.Ē
All in all, Long Time Gone is a great mystery with surprising depth of character. It doesnít deal with deep philosophical issues (do many mysteries?), but it does give the reader an interesting plot with intriguing characters to read about. Itís a nice way to spend your reading time. And if youíre from Seattle, or familiar with it, the location is just an added bonus.