Although J.A. Jance and Tony Hillerman (Coyote Waits, The Fallen Man) are in many ways poles apart as mystery writers, they are united on at least two fronts: their appreciation of the hypnotically arid beauty of the American Southwest; and their sense that this landscape is peculiarly capable of engendering horrific violence. In Skeleton Canyon Jance writes: "Overhead, the stars shone like glittering diamonds against a velvet sky. The starlight was so bright that the mountains, rocks, and trees around her emerged from the gloom. Sitting there in the half-lit dark of Skeleton Canyon, it was easy for Brianna to sense time falling away from her. This rugged, almost empty corner of the Arizona desert had changed so little that even now an occasional jaguar, roaming north from the mountains of Mexico, had been spotted by a solitary rancher. And if the wild canyons of the Peloncillos still played host to an assortment of wildlife, it wasn't so far off to imagine that human outlaws still ranged that same habitat as well."
Brianna O'Brien never returns from Skeleton Canyon, where she had waited under cover of darkness to rendezvous, à la Juliet and Romeo, with her boyfriend, Ignacio Ybarra. In investigating Brianna's murder, Sheriff Joanna Brady must confront both the blatant racism of the O'Brien family--horrified to discover that their daughter could have been involved with a Mexican boy--and the family's dark past. There are skeletons in canyons, and skeletons as well locked behind the doors of the sprawling O'Brien compound. Home is where the heart is--but home is also host to a lethal nest of lies, greed, and secrets. --Kelly Flynn
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful: Wonderful, November 6, 2002 Reviewer: calyndula from Wynnewood, PA United States Joanna Brady is the no-nonsense sheriff of a border town in Arizona, and she is thoroughly delightful in this story of murder in the treacherous canyons near the Mexican border. The recently widowed mother of a 10-year-old girl, Joanna cannot help but be moved by the vicious murder of Brianna O'Brien, the beautiful and popular daughter of the town's most prominent family. The reader, too, is drawn into Brianna's all-too-brief life, and is there with her in Skeleton Canyon as she joyously awaits the arrival of her secret lover, Ignacio Ybarra, equally young, beautiful, and deeply in love. Brianna does not live to meet her lover--but who killed her? And why? It's up to Joanna to find out, and her job is much hampered by the arrogance of Brianna's father, whose distrust of the local law enforcement community is matched only by his racial hatred of Mexican-Americans. Brianna and Ignacio were involved in a forbidden love affair, at least by the senior O'Brian's lights. Did he find out and have his own daughter killed? It seems highly unlikely, since Ignacio is very much alive--and a suspect. But why would he murder his beloved? What secrets in the O'Brian family coalesced to cause this inevitable tragedy? While Joanna and her crew struggle to find the answers, the reader is treated to magnificent descriptions of the rugged Southwest, whose beauty masks murderous dangers such as killer flash floods. Equally interesting is the supporting cast: Joanna's friend Angie, a former hooker turned straight; two old and entertaining drunks in the bar where Angie works; Joanna's indomitable mother, who has a secret of her own; and more. This is the 5th in the Joanna Brady series, and the first I have read. It stands alone beautifully, but got me so hooked that I must get my hands on the next book immediately! Highly recommended for mystery lovers looking for a good, strong, read.