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By J. A. Jance

Harper, 2006 ($9.99)
ISBN: 978-0-06-054091-3

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Cochise County Sheriff Joanna Brady is very, very pregnant and about to go on maternity leave any minute when a badly mutilated corpse is found in the desert. The victim is identified as an ex-con who'd served twenty years for a murder he couldn't remember committing. Nobody seems to care much about the man except for one friend and mentor and his landlady. Joanna learns that the original arresting officer was her own father, who had had doubts about the man's guilt at the time. She decides to reopen the case, and soon finds that there are some powerful people who want her to leave things as they were.

At the same time, one of her animal control officers is brutally beaten in the course of trying to expose an illegal dog fighting ring run by local thugs. She is saved from death by a Nicaraguan immigrant who risked his own safety to help her. He is reluctant to speak out because he fears that the two illegal immigrants who were with him might be deported, but Joanna persuades him to testify. She is forced to face her own frustration with the increasingly overwhelming problem of illegals crossing into her county, and to understand more about why they keep coming.

Joanna gets into some pretty tight spots, alarming her family, especially her mother-in-law, who shows up uninvited to await the birth of their first grandchild, and her own mother, who disapproves of her daughter's career choice in the best of times. I, too, was alarmed at some of the things she does while in her delicate state, but I suppose she's one tough lady.

The book deals with some very serious and timely topics in an informative, but not preachy manner. Joanna's struggles with juggling family and professional issues is at times poignant (when she finds and reads her father's old journals) and at other times hilarious (circumventing her mother-in-law's nosey interference). Her relationship with her husband and teenage daughter is healthy and realistic, a nice change from many writers who seem to think every family should be dysfunctional and "quirky."

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