Trial by Fire: A Novel of Suspense by J.A. Jance

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Trial by FireAli Reynolds is approached by Sheriff of the Yavapai County Police Department to become his media relations consultant. She had just recently moved back to Sedona, Arizona after losing her job as an anchor in Los Angeles. She not only lost her job but decided to lose her husband who she had found to be cheating on her. She was in good enough financial shape to do whatever she wanted and decided to do it in her hometown. She was startled by the sheriff’s offer but she decided to take it because it sounded like a challenge and something that fit her background well.

She didn’t know that one of the problems she was going to face was a battle going on in the department between two rival unions. However that really is just a small part of this entire story. Within the first week she is able to get news out about an old farmer who busted two guys for rustling Cacti! Yes it is actually against the law to take certain cacti from the desert. Her boss was extremely happy with the way she handled the story and the next step up for her was even bigger.

It seems that a house was set afire in a neighboring community and it appears to be the work of ELF (Earth Liberation Front) a somewhat renegade group that felt the earth should be free of over-priced houses. It turns out that inside the burned up home a somewhat elderly woman was found badly burned and near death.

The woman is unidentified but taking to a burns unit in a Phoenix hospital and it is at that point that Trial by Fire really becomes quite interesting. The sheriff sends Ali to Phoenix to keep the news media away from the victim as much as possible. It seems that the federal government is now also involved because of the ELF signature on the building. Ali basically moves into a hotel right by the hospital and takes up her position.

There she meets Sister Anselm who is known as the Angel of Death because she always shows up to assist with unidentified victims of crime in the area. Sister Anselm basically takes over the Burns Unit and guards the victim as well as caring for her giving the nurses another welcomed hand. She also is working to identify the victim to notify the relatives and assist in solving the case because she fears whoever set the house and woman afire will try to return and finish their work.

Throughout the story the burned woman is in a semi-comatose condition. Jance does have the woman’s thoughts going on and on as she tries to figure out what has and is happening. Ali ends up working with Sister Anselm by keeping track of all visitors to the burns unit and listening/recording their conversations all with the idea that someone will show up.

It doesn’t turn out exactly that way but what does happen is that both Ali and the Sister get involved in a kidnapping endeavor. It gets very exciting as the book begins to wind down and the victim is identified. Her identification brings several more possible suspects into the picture before it all gets sorted out.

Lots of plots, subplots, and easy to follow clue dropping is part of Jance’s excellent writing. The ending is maybe expected in a way but then again maybe not! Read it and find out!