After only six years in prison, Andrew Carlisle has ben released. A brilliant psychopath convicted of the brutal torture-murder of a Papago (Tohono O’Odham) Indian girl, he is free once more to prowl the Arizona desert to feed his insatiable hunger for blood and fear . . .and revenge.
A teacher on the Tohono O’Odham reservation, Diana Ladd’s testimony once helped put Andrew Carlisle behind bars. And now the terrified young widow can’t ignore the dire peril foretold in dark, mystical omens and ancient Papago lore: a hunter is stalking Diana Ladd and her son . . . and his hour is at hand.
When it came time to write Hour of the Hunter the second time, I had been away from the reservation for nearly twenty years. Needing to reacquaint myself, I put in requests for more than seventy inter-library loans. The books came to me over the next several months. One of them was a book by Harold Bell Wright called Long Ago Told. This book, long out of print, contained vivid retellings of ancient Papago (Tohono O’Odham) legends that had been unavailable on the reservation in written form for generations.
In reading that book, I was struck by the story of The Woman who Loved Field Hockey. In that story, a woman loves playing field hockey so much that she neglects her own child. Here I was writing a book about a woman named Diana Ladd who wants to be a writer so much that she is neglecting her child. It was clear to me that these were the same story. I desperately wanted to put the Papago (Tohono O’Odham) legend into Hour of the Hunter, but I write murder mysteries. It’s against the rules to drop a legend into the middle of one of those for no other reason than the writer wants to.
That’s when I decided to weave pieces of legends into the background of my book. What evolved was more a like french braiding a book than it was writing one. I didn’t change the legends and I didn’t change my story, and yet they blended together into a wonderful whole, one I’m still proud of ten years later.
Writing Hour of the Hunter also gave me a chance to pass along some of the things I learned while living on the reservation. I worked in the public school system there for five years. I can only hope that I taught as much as I was privileged to learn.
Twenty years ago, a darkness descended upon the Walkers of Tucson, Arizona–an Anglo family with solid ties to the legends and history of the Tohono O’Odham Indian nation. A personified evil named Andrew Carlisle–a psychopath in the guise of a nondescript college professor–brought blood and terror into their world, stalking, attacking, and nearly murdering Diana Ladd Walker and her young son, Davy. But Diana fought back, blinding and crippling her assailant. In later years, in an uneasy collaboration with her would-be killer, she wrote a book about the horrific events that nearly destroyed her and her loved ones–a book that made Diana Walker famous. And when Carlisle died in prison, the Walkers believed their long nightmare was finally over; the monster would never be able to harm them again.
They were wrong.
When Kiss of the Bees starts, twenty years have passed since the end of Hour of the Hunter. Diana Ladd who desperately wanted to be a writer back then has just been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Her son, Davy, has grown up and has just graduated from law school. Her husband, a struggling detective in Hour of the Hunter, has spent years as the sheriff of Pima County, but he has recently lost a bid for reelection. And the crazed killer from back then is dead and out of the picture, right? Wrong!
When it came time to write the sequel to Hour of the Hunter I knew only one piece of the puzzle. Twenty-five years earlier, when I was a school librarian on the reservation, a young girl, a toddler who had been abandoned by her birth parents, almost died of being stung by ants because her elderly caretaker was deaf as a post and didn’t hear the child screaming. This harrowing tale, one that stuck in my heart and wouldn’t go away, was the only story I was determined to use in the upcoming book, one that still didn’t have a name the night before I was set to start writing it.
I went to the bedroom, worrying about whether or not I’d be able to summon the same kind of magic that had sustained me while I was writing Hour of the Hunter. I went to the bookshelf and took down a copy of Harold Bell Wright’s Long Ago Told, where I had found the legends that had been woven into the background of my first thriller.
Getting into bed, I allowed the book to fall open. I found myself reading a legend about a woman who, in a time of terrible drought, was saved from death by the beating of the wings of a huge swarm of bees. When the drought was over and the woman was still alive, she went on to become the Tohono O’Odham’s greatest medicine woman. As soon as I read that story, I leaped out of bed and went to tell my husband, “The magic’s back. Now I can write this book.” Not only was the magic back, it had given me my title, Kiss of the Bees.
Cut loose from a job he loved, retired sheriff Brandon Walker is adrift in retirement until attorney Ralph Ames offers him a lifeline. The Last Chance, an volunteer organization made up of retired law enforcement and forensics experts, devotes its efforts to solving cases long gone cold. Brandon’s good friend, a Tohono O’odham medicine man named Fat Crack Ortiz, brings just such a case to Brandon’s attention–the thirty year-old unsolved murder of a young Indian girl.
In a case that crosses cultural lines, Brandon brings to bear the modern tools of DNA identification as well as the ancient wisdom of the Desert People as he pits himself against a pair of remorseless killers who have sown decades of death across the Arizona desert.
Mysteries are primarily puzzles. Thrillers lend themselves to the examination of good and evil.
In Day of the Dead good is represented by Brandon Walker, his family, and friends. A dying medicine man, Fat Crack Ortiz, is willing to trust his Anglo friend, a retired Pima county sheriff, with a long neglected murder, despite the fact that reopening the case goes against the grain of tribal tradition and taboos. Brian Fellows, Brandon’s not-quite foster son, has followed in Brandon’s law enforcement footsteps and helps from inside the department Brandon no longer heads. Lani Walker, Brandon’s adopted Indian daughter, a medicine woman in her own right, sees inexplicable images in the sacred crystals given to her by her beloved godfather and mentor, Fat Crack.
These were all characters I had met before–in Hour of the Hunter and Kiss of the Bees, and they wouldn’t let me loose. They stuck with me, nagging me, requiring that I write another book to find out what had been happening in their lives in the years since I had last written about them.
Evil is represented by Gayle and Dr. Lawrence Stryker. Operating without restraint or conscience, these are people for whom boundaries are made to crossed and rules to be broken. They kill and torture helpless young women simply because they can. They operate with impunity behind an unblemished facade that portrays them as do-gooding pillars of the community.
Every summer, in an event that is commemorated throughout the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Queen of the Night flower blooms in the Arizona desert. But one couple's intended celebration is shattered by gunfire, the sole witness to the bloodshed a little girl who has lost the only family she's ever known.
To her rescue come Dr. Lani Walker, who sees the trauma of her own childhood reflected in her young patient; and Dan Pardee, an Iraq war veteran and member of an unorthodox border patrol unit called the Shadow Wolves. Joined by Pima County homicide investigator Brian Fellows, they must keep the child safe while tracking down a ruthless killer.
In a second case, retired homicide detective Brandon Walker is investigating the long unsolved murder of an Arizona State University coed. Now, after nearly half a century of silence, the one person who can shed light on that terrible incident is willing to talk. Meanwhile, Walker's wife, Diana Ladd, is reliving memories of a man whose death continues to haunt her in the present day.
As these crimes threaten to tear apart three separate families, the stories and traditions of the Tohono O'odham people remain just beneath the surface of the desert, providing illumination to events of both self-sacrifice and unspeakable evil.
A number of years ago, an organization in Arizona asked me to write a short story for what was expected to be a coffee table book about cacti. I wrote the story, Queen of the Night, for free and was then astonished and more than a little miffed when the group then REJECTED!!! the short story I had written. When I was venting about the whole process to a friend, she made an excellent suggestion. "Why don't you do what Stephen King does and turn the short story into a novel?"
Which is exactly what I did.
Years ago, Amos Warren, a prospector, was gunned down out in the desert and Sheriff Brandon Walker made the arrest in the case. Now, the retired Walker is called in when the alleged killer, John Lassiter, refuses to accept a plea deal that would release him from prison with time served. Lassiter wants Brandon and The Last Chance to find Amos's "real" killer and clear his name.
Sixteen hundred miles to the north in Seattle, J.P. Beaumont is at loose ends after the Special Homicide Investigation Team, affectionately known as S.H.I.T., has been unexpectedly and completely disbanded. When Brandon discovers that there are links between Lassiter’s case and an unsolved case in Seattle, he comes to Beau for help.
Those two cases suddenly become hot when two young boys from the reservation, one of them with close ties to the Walker family, go missing. Can two seasoned cops, working together, decipher the missing pieces in time to keep them alive?
Book number five in the Walker Family books finds Brandon Walker joining forces with J.P. Beaumont to solve two long cold cases at both ends of the road, Tucson and Seattle. Decades earlier, Brandon arrested Big Bad John Lassiter and sent him to prison for the murder of Lassiter’s one time friend, Amos Warren. Now, after decades in prison, Lassiter has asked Brandon for help in finding Warren’s “real killer.” When Brandon learns that one of the witnesses in the Warren homicide was himself murdered in Seattle in the 1980s, Brandon knows who to call for help.
This book gave me a chance to return to the legends and lore of the Tohono O’odham people. It gave me a chance to visit once again with a parade of characters that span centuries. Understanding Woman and the blind medicine man, Looks at Nothing, are from the 1880s. In Dance of the Bones, you meet Understanding Woman’s great, great, great grandson, Gabe Ortiz, a disaffected teenager in the 21st century. I love these characters—even though they’re all products of my imagination or maybe, because of that—and it was wonderful to have a chance to encounter them again and see what they’ve been up to during the years they’ve been out of my sight.
Because that’s the interesting thing about fictional characters. Just because I’m not paying attention to them doesn’t mean they’re not going on with their lives.
Hour of the Hunter
Kiss of the Bees
Day of the Dead
Queen of the Night
Dance of the Bones
© 2015 J.A. JANCE