This is the first book in J.A. Jance's long-running "J.P. Beaumont" mystery series.
Detective J.P. Beaumont (Beau) is a Seattle homicide cop who's recently acquired a new partner, Detective Peters. As the story opens Beaumont and Peters are assigned the case of a strangled five-year-old girl named Angela Barstogi. The detectives learn that Angela and her mother belong to a secretive cult headed by Pastor Michael Brody - a fire-and-brimstone preacher who rules his flock with a whip (literally; he beats and whips his flock for perceived infractions).
As part of their inquiry the homicide detectives attend Angela's funeral - to see who shows up and how they behave. Beau closely watches the cult members until his eye is caught by a stunningly beautiful blonde woman who breezes over to the grave and throws in a red rose. It turns out the woman, named Anne Corley, is a wealthy widow who travels across the country to attend children's funerals because her sister died as a child. Beau is absolutely mesmerized by Anne and makes it his business to get better acquainted with her.
Beau thinks little Angela's murderer might be a cult member but he's frustrated by the apparent lack of evidence. Then Angela's father, drunk and belligerent, flies in from Chicago - loudly threatening Pastor Brody. The father is arrested and accused of killing his daughter....a charge that seems unlikely to stick. .
The mystery part of the book stalls at this point - about halfway into the book - and Beau's romance with Anne takes over. In my opinion the story becomes discordant here - it turns from a mystery into a romance. Within a week of meeting, Beau and Anne become intimate, get engaged, shop for household accoutrements, buy wedding rings, and purchase wedding clothes. They then get married in a ceremony that occurs before 6 A.M.- with Anne's lawyer as witness. Afterwards Beau acquires new evidence that helps him solve the case - amid some whopping big surprises.
While investigating the crime Beau has to deal with Maxwell Cole, a columnist who's hated Beau since college and always disparages the detective in print. Cole tries to lurk around for scoops....but Anne has his number.
In my opinion this is a weak beginning to the J.P. Beaumont series, which improves in later books. Still, this first installment might be worth reading just to meet Anne Corley, who's a kind of presence throughout the series.
Rating: 2.5 stars