by J.A. Jance
Reviewed By Martin Kich
This is the thirteenth novel in Jance's series featuring Seattle homicide detective J.P. Beaumont. The continuing vitality of the series is evidenced in the novel's convincing mystery, its engaging characters, and its efficient development.
Beaumont himself is an amalgam of the wearied dependability and the savoir faire of David Janssen/Harry Orwell in Harry-O, the affable professionalism and the intuitive sensitivity of Daniel J. Travanti/Frank Furillo in Hill Street Blues, and the casual sophistication and the easy-going demonstrations of wealth of George Peppard/Thomas Banacek in Banacek. He is a recovering alcoholic, and he has suffered through a failed marriage and a subsequent, disappointing relationship. But he does have a penthouse apartment, a red Porsche, and some close friends who are available to lend him not only their loyalty and emotional support, but also their varied professional expertise as Beaumont has need of it.
All in all, Beaumont is a steady, likeable presence in this series of novels, but he is typically not the most interesting character in each novel. For instance, in Name Withheld, a wealthy octogenarian named Grace Highsmith, who is the great aunt of one of the chief suspects in a series of murders, is a marvelous combination of experience and naivete, of willfulness and vulnerability. Her part in the resolution of the mystery is appropriately, absurdly, and tragically dramatic. Moreover, the first of the victims, Donald Wolf, is fascinating because he seems to have been universally disliked and to have no traceable past. Peters, Beaumont's paraplegic friend and his temporary partner, and Kramer, his antagonist in the Homicide Department, provide rather obvious, if effectively worked-out, counterpoints to each other, as well as to Beaumont.
Jance is not an exceptional prose stylist, but the narrative is efficient and, if there are few memorably descriptive sentences, there are also very few awkward lapses in style. Likewise, there are only a few lapses in plausibility.
At one point, Beaumont recites, over the telephone, a list of mysterious biotech companies and then asks the person on the other end, one Harry Moore, who owns a reputable biotech company, to provide him with information on the other companies. Moore agrees to do so, without asking Beaumont to repeat any of the company's names (219).
Later, when Grace Highsmith is trying Beaumont's patience, she asserts off-handedly that she might have gotten married herself if she had "ever met just the right sort of man." Beaumont thinks to himself, "Not bloody likely"--as if he were suddenly British (320).
One of the oddest moments in the novel occurs when a cashier at a restaurant is very vividly described as "a good-looking, dark-haired woman with a bright smile, amazingly long fingernails, and a pair of bright green golf-tee dangling earrings" (286-87). What makes this description so odd is less the details themselves than the fact that she flirts briefly with Beaumont and then disappears from the novel as abruptly as she appeared. It's like the puzzling remnant of a minor role in a film when the rest of the character's scenes have been left on the cutting-room floor.
Still, these are the sort of minor complaints which are part of the reward of reading a good mystery. And Name Withheld is a very good mystery.