(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

When J. A. Jance was beginning to write, she was advised to write about what she knew. Although she did not know a lot about police procedures, she was very familiar with alcoholism because of her first husband. She used this knowledge to shape the character of J. P. Beaumont, who is told he will die if he does not stop drinking in Dismissed with Prejudice (1989) and enters a alcohol rehabilitation ranch in Arizona in Minor in Possession (1990). The remaining novels have him attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and continually struggling to remain sober.

Jance’s experiences as a single parent are reflected in the character Joanna Brady. Although Joanna loses her husband, Andy, when he is murdered in Desert Heat (1993) and Jance divorced her husband who then died of chronic alcoholism, both women become single mothers. Each has to learn to go on with her life, which includes combining home and work. Joanna is the office manager in an insurance agency, and Jance sold insurance. Jance remarries, as does Joanna in Devil’s Claw (2000). Jance and her character obviously do not share every trait, but Joanna does reflect a lot of Jance’s experiences.

Jance sets her works in Arizona and Washington, the two states in which she has lived most of her life. Places, highways, and geographical elements from both places appear in her stories. In addition, she adds Native American tales from the Tohono O’Odham to her writing. This creates realism in Jance’s stories by allowing people who live in or have visited these locations to picture her settings in their minds. For people who have not been to these locations, Jance paints a picture with her words.

The strongest quality in Jance’s writing is her characterization. Her characters are first and foremost people and then law enforcement officers. The physical and emotional hurt they receive in one book carries over into the next book or books. Just as real people do not get over being hurt in a short period of time, neither do Jance’s characters.

A tool that Jance uses successfully is dialogue. She feels that if a character talks too long, it is not realistic. People do not talk for long periods of time unless they are giving speeches; therefore, her characters do not. Also, people do not always talk in complete sentences, so her characters do not. Jance’s characters are ordinary people, and her ability to have them speak naturally makes them more realistic.

Jance does research when writing her novels. She talks with professionals in...

(The entire section is 1056 words.)