With his hand trapped in the door of a speeding car, a man struggles to remain upright as he's dragged along a deserted stretch of San Juan Road in Phoenix's South Mountain Preserve. It's the perfect place to drive a man to his grave -- literally. Starting with a crime so gruesome even prowling coyotes keep their distance from the remains, a killer begins crisscrossing the Southwest on a spree of grisly murders.
A hundred miles away, Ali Reynolds is grieving. The newscasting job she once delighted in is gone and so is the philandering husband she loved and thought she knew. When a member of the family who gave Ali a generous scholarship for her education decades earlier suddenly asks her for a meeting, Ali wonders what it can mean. Before she can satisfy her curiosity, though, Ali receives another startling call: a friend's teenage daughter has disappeared. Ali offers to help, but in doing so, she unknowingly begins a quest that will reveal a deadly ring of secrets, at the center of which stand two undiscriminating killers....
Hand of Evil is Jance at her best, weaving a masterful story of suspense that travels over generations, revealing two very different women with the same horrifying secret. Will Ali become a victim herself, or will she escape from a deadly deceit that no amount of security -- financial or emotional -- can cover up?
Jance keeps former L.A. TV news anchor Ali Reynolds in her native Arizona for her third lead appearance (following Web of Evil). Ali, still recovering from the murder of her not-quite-ex-husband, is aided by her parents and her old high school chum, newly divorced detective and marine reservist Dave Holman. Meanwhile, wealthy, reclusive Arabella Ashcroft, whose family's college scholarship program supported Ali as an undergrad, has read Ali's grief-filled blog, cutlooseblog.com, and wants Ali's help in writing an incest memoir: elderly Arabella says that her childhood was despoiled by a late stepbrother, Bill, and that she's being threatened by his son should she go through with writing about it. Soon after, Dave's daughter Crystal disappears from the Las Vegas home of his ex- and her new husband; Dave seeks Ali's counsel before barreling out there. Jance crowds the book with subplots, and her characters air a lot of opinions about sexual abuse and health care. But sparks between Ali and Dave and an upbeat ending keep this latest Ali outing on track. (Dec.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 17, 2007
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Excerpt from Hand of Evil by J.A. Jance
When the car door slammed shut on his hand, the universe came to a stop and nothing else mattered. Nothing. He dropped to his knees, howling in agony while a nearby coyote, startled by the sound, responded with a howl of its own. Rigid with pain, at first he couldn't even reach for the door handle. By the time he did, it was too late. The door lock inside the vehicle had already clicked home.
"Please," he begged. "For God's sake, open the door."
But the answer to that was no -- an unequivocal no. The engine turned over and the car began to move.
"You can't do this," he screamed. "You can't!"
By then the pavement was moving beneath him, slowly at first, then faster and faster. He held out his other hand, trying to brace himself or somehow pull himself back to his feet. For a moment that almost worked and he was close to upright, but then the speed of the car outdistanced his scrambling feet and he fell again, facedown this time, with the full weight of his body pulling on the exploding pain in his fingers.
As the speed of the vehicle increased, so did his agonized screams. The parking lot's layer of loose gravel scraped and tore at him, shredding his blue-and-white jogging suit; shredding his skin. By the time the hurtling car bounced over the first speed bump, he was no longer screaming. Plowing face-first into the second one momentarily knocked him unconscious.
He came to when the car door opened. Once his trapped hand was released from the door frame, he fell to the ground. He couldn't actually see the car or even the ground for that matter. He seemed to have been struck blind. Nor could he differentiate the pain in his crippled hand from the agony in the rest of his tortured body, but his ears still worked. He heard the car door slam shut again and felt the spray of gravel from the tires as it drove away into the night, leaving him in absolute darkness.
He lay there for a long time, knowing he was barely alive and feeling his life's blood seeping out through layers of damaged skin. He tried crawling, but he couldn't make that work.
"Help," he called weakly. "Somebody, please help me."
In the wilds of Phoenix's South Mountain Preserve, only a single prowling coyote heard the dying man's final whispered plea for help. The coyote was on the trail of his dinner -- an elusive bunny -- and he paid no attention.
No one else did, either.
* * *
Sybil Harriman strode through the early morning chill and reveled in the sunlight and the clear crisp air. Across the valley, she could see the layer of smog settling in over the rest of the city, but here it was cold and clear -- cold enough to see her breath and make her nose run and her eyes water, but not cold enough to scare her away from walking the full course of the park's Alta Trail and back to the parking lot along the Bajada.
She had been warned that Alta was "too difficult" for someone her age, and that she certainly shouldn't walk it alone. So she did so, at least twice a week. Because she could. And as she walked along, huffing and puffing a little, truth be known, she was also drinking in the view and the cactus and the birds -- birds so different from the ones she'd grown up with back in Chicago -- and she was also thinking about how wrong she'd been and wishing things had been different.
Herman had wanted to move here the moment he retired from working for Merck. She was the one who had fought it, saying they should stay where they were in order to be closer to the kids and grandkids, although a lot of good that had done. Finally, when Herm's arthritis had gotten so bad that he could barely walk, she had relented. Now she was sorry they hadn't come sooner, while Herman would have been able to reap some of the benefits of desert living.
His arthritis had improved so much once they were in Arizona it was unbelievable, but then the rest of it had happened. The dry climate could do nothing at all to stave off the ravages and gradual decline that was Alzheimer's. As for the kids? Once Herm died, it had been plain enough that what they wanted more than anything was to get their greedy little hands on their father's money. Well, thanks to the trust Herm had wisely insisted on setting up, they weren't getting any of that, not until Sybil was damned good and ready. And that was another reason she walked every single day. She was determined to live as long and as well as she could.
Let 'em wait, she told herself fiercely as she marched along. They can wait until hell freezes over.