Book Review: Missing and Endangered by J. A. Jance

Missing and Endangered by J. A. Jance is an evocative and atmospheric mystery, where Cochise County Sheriff Joanna Brady’s professional and personal lives collide when her college-age daughter is involved in a missing persons case.

It pleases me to no end to be reviewing a title from legendary author J. A. Jance, whom I have been a reader and fan of for several decades. Even more so, I can proudly aver that Jance has not lost a step and can still spin a terrific mystery/thriller tale with the best of them. It is always nice to spend time in Arizona with her most popular characters.

Missing and Endangered is the latest entry in the beloved Sheriff Joanna Brady series, and the Sheriff is as on the ball as she ever. In fact, her skills will be greatly tested as she is involved in a death-by-police-officer case involving one of her own while she juggles the issues thrust upon her by her college-aged daughter, Jennifer, whose roommate has gone missing. She’s also saddled with the news that one of her most cherished deputies has inoperable cancer and mere months to live—and Christmas is right around the corner. The setup is remarkably interesting and provides plenty of issues for even the best law enforcement professional to be able to adequately handle.

When Jenny lets her Mom, Joanna, know that she will be bringing her roommate, Beth Rankin, home with her for Christmas break, Joanna and her husband, Butch (Jenny’s stepdad), could not be happier. Beth has had a rough go of acclimating to college and elects not to spend the holidays with her extremely religious and overbearing parents. The good news is juxtaposed with the bad, however, as at the same time, Deputy Ernie Carpenter has informed Sheriff Brady that his cancer has returned and is now terminal, prompting him to immediately put in for retirement. Brady promises to keep the cancer bit a secret and begins arranging for a full-blown retirement party right after the holidays.

The life of law enforcement professionals is always unpredictable, and any day could be their last—even on a seemingly innocent call like delivering a notice of restraint. Deputy Armando Ruiz hears noises that sound like a struggle as he approaches the trailer home of Leon Hogan. Suddenly, a naked woman storms out of the home, followed by a man who is armed and firing a gun wildly. Ruiz and the naked woman take shelter behind the squad car when a stray bullet ricochets off the car door and catches Ruiz under his vest in the gut. Firing back just once, Ruiz kills the man, who is later identified as Leon Hogan. The naked woman turns out to be Madison Hogan, the wife who took out the restraining order. During the skirmish inside the trailer home, the Hogans’ two young children, Kendall and Peter, were locked inside a bedroom.

Ruiz is helicoptered to the nearest trauma center for life-saving surgery. Meanwhile, Detective Dave Newton—not a fan of Sheriff Brady—is assigned the case and tries hard to turn this into an unwarranted police shooting. Unfortunately, the local press agrees, and Deputy Ruiz’s wife and children have to read about his kill shot while he is fighting for his life after several hours of emergency surgery.

Sheriff Brady has her hands full supporting the Ruiz family and spearheading efforts to take care of the family’s Christmas while working with her own forensics team to make sure the evidence supports that the shooting was justified and above-board. Ruiz is eventually cleared, but new allegations are uncovered showing that Madison Hogan may have set her estranged husband up and put him in line for suicide by police firearm. The fact that Madison Hogan has been seen hanging around with a known drug dealer supports the fact that she is not to be trusted.

Sheriff Brady is all over the case, which includes informing Leon Hogan’s parents of his death. They are an upstanding couple who cooperate fully and do whatever they can to help, including sharing their misgivings about their daughter-in-law.

Meanwhile, Jenny Brady is finishing up her last finals while Beth is dealing with larger issues. Her first real relationship was a virtual one with a slightly older man named Ron from Washington, D.C. The relationship takes a dark turn when Ron becomes suddenly possessive and untrusting of Jenny. He demands that Beth chooses between him and her roommate. When Beth refuses, they get into an online altercation whereby Beth effectively dumps Ron.

Of course, things don’t end that easily. Ron had recorded an online “sexting” session where Beth was in the raw—funny enough, Ron claimed to not be able to reveal a clear version of himself virtually while he was “at work”—and sends the photos/video to everyone in Beth’s contact list. Turns out, the Ron that Beth knew is actually an expert at computers, installing keystroke software on her laptop and phone to infiltrate her laptop’s camera. “Ron” was playing a dangerous game, one that drove the frightened Beth to dump her cellphone in the snow and run away from campus.

We now have both ends of the “Missing” and “Endangered” parts of this story: Beth Rankin is temporarily missing (Jenny has alerted campus security, the local police, and her Mom about the incident), while the Hogan children are endangered by their allegedly criminal mother and drug dealer boyfriend. Each storyline in Missing and Endangered is interesting and unique, and Jance is fully up to speed on the forensics and law enforcement details present, which provides a level of credibility from start to finish.

Of course, the feds, at the behest of Sheriff Brady, become involved in the Beth Rankin situation and “Ron” is far from the individual she thought she knew. Will everything be wrapped up in a neat little bow like the many Christmas presents Butch is placing beneath the Brady family Christmas tree? You’ll just have to dive into this very engaging and enjoyable story and find out if there will be a Merry Christmas for all.

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