On a beautiful sunny day in Coronado National Monument, an elderly couple’s car goes off the side of a mountain and into oblivion.
This tragedy spurs the action in New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance’s newest book, “Damage Control,” which came out July 22.
The book draws on imagery of Southern Arizona that Jance collected as a child growing up in Bisbee. Although she never saw a car go off a cliff there, she did visit the monument as a child.
“Writing about an area I know well allows me to know what the weather is like as well as the geography so I can report on that in the background while keeping my characters’ actions and conversations in the foreground,” she said.
Jance’s book is the 13th in a line of mysteries involving Joanna Brady, the fictional sheriff of Cochise County who ran for the office after husband — who had been running — was mysteriously killed.
The sheriff isn’t Jance, exactly, but like Jance, she leads a life that includes not only a demanding career but also all the activities that go along with having a family.
When Jance wrote her first book, in 1982, she was a single mother with two children and a full-time job selling life insurance. She wrote between 4 and 7 a.m. When she invented her sheriff, she made her three-dimensional.
“Most of the women I knew lived complicated lives that involved husbands and children, in-laws and friends,” Jance wrote on her Web site. “They juggled family responsibilities and jobs along with church and community service. I set out to make my character … into someone whose life would reflect that complicated act of juggling.”
These days, the author has 38 published mysteries to her name, and her books are doing so well that her husband, who supported her through much writing, was able to retire at 54.
Her sheriff, in “Damage Control,” has a newborn baby, a teenage daughter, a writer husband, and a difficult mother to deal with. On top of that, she has an alarming mystery on her hands.
The car that went off the cliff at Coronado National Monument has a note in the glove compartment saying its occupants intended to take their lives. The autopsy report contradicts that assertion, though, and when the deceased’s daughters show up to feud over their inheritance, the sheriff knows this is more than a suicide pact.
A Publishers Weekly review of the book said, “Jance beautifully evokes the desert and towns of her beloved Southwest as well as the strong individuals who live there.”
The harsh reality of the unending stream of desert crossers and their issues makes it into the book, as does the monsoon.
“Last year, when the monsoons were at their height, there were waterfalls on the cliffs in the Mule Mountains where I had never seen waterfalls before,” Jance said. “I put those waterfalls in the book.”
Jance and her husband split their time between Washington and Arizona, where they have homes. Jance said being away helps her describe Southern Arizona more clearly.
“I had to be living in Washington and attempting to describe Bisbee to people who had never been there when I realized why Bisbee High School’s colors are red and gray — due to the red shale hillside and gray limestone cliffs that surround the town,” she said.
J.A. Jance’s nationwide book tour for “Damage Control” includes two stops in the Northwest.
• At 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7, Jance will appear at Barnes and Noble at the Foothills Mall, 7325 N. La Cholla Blvd. For more information, call 742-6402.
• At 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8, she will appear at Borders, 4235 N. Oracle Road. For more information, call 292-1331.