Queen of the Night
There is only one word to describe J.A. Jance’s Queen of the Night: lazy. Reading it makes you feel like you’ve turned on a bad soap opera. Plot lines pick up in the middle, then disappear. Certain twists appear out of nowhere, and connect to nothing else. Some characters come in with no introduction, relationships are assumed between others.
The book is apparently a sequel to Day of Dead, though this is not mentioned anywhere. It opens with a murder on a beach in San Diego in 1959. This murder is not the mystery to be solved; it’s solved three quarters of the way in, and is not connected to anything else. The focus then shifts to Tucson, Arizona, where a cast of dozens is introduced and haphazardly connected to each other. The story is focused around an annual party for the opening of the Queen of the Night flowers.
The mystery lacks edge, making it feel like color-by-numbers plotting. We know who the murderer is before the murder is committed, and this person is barely connected to the rest of the characters. The murderer is not sympathetic enough to draw the reader in, and not depraved enough to be interesting. If you’ve watched a procedural TV show in the last five years, you easily can follow all of the threads to their inevitable end.
I wanted to get angry about the Native American stereotypes, but the fact is all of the characters are badly drawn. That said, some of the Native Americans are stoic older types with names like Looks at Nothing, who use traditions to decide everything, including whether to go to parties. Others are more westernized and feel bad about it. Or they are portrayed as greedy, superstitious drunks who live in fear and rob at will. The Anglo characters are wealthy, kindhearted, and well-educated.
The laziness even negates some of the potentially interesting ideas, like the fact that one of the older women is haunted by her abusive first husband, and believes she has early onset Alzheimer’s. How can her grandson also see him? (Answer: he’s a future medicine man, because tribes need medicine men, obviously.) But wait, no, it is just the interaction of some medication she’s taking. (But her grandson? Medicine man!)
The characters of Queen of the Night are easily drawn and the plot is boring, although simple to follow. However, Jance is a talented author as evidenced by her previous books such as Birds of Prey and Partner in Crime. Find one of those books, if you are really interested in reading her best work.