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Beyond Seattle's Mean Streets With Author J.A. Jance

caption: Seattle mystery author J.A. Jance.
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Seattle mystery author J.A. Jance.
KUOW Photo/Michael Clinard

On a damp gray morning, J.A. Jance sits inside the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Her cheery yellow blazer stands out in all the gloom.

Jance chuckles as she points out a large shelf devoted to her books.

If you read mystery novels, chances are you’ve run across one of them. Jance has published 51 novels, along with novellas and short stories. They’re divided into four distinct series; three are set in Arizona, where Jance grew up.

Although she wanted to study creative writing in college in the 1960s, Jance says, because she was female, the professor wouldn’t let her into the program.

Jance got her revenge years later, in a book called “Hour of the Hunter.” The crazed killer in the book turns out to be a former professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona.

“Bingo!” she laughs.

Jance is a force to be reckoned with. She moved to Seattle in 1981, a single mother with no child support payments to rely on. She sold insurance to keep the bills paid.

By 1982, she’d worked up the nerve to write her first mystery. It featured an alcoholic Seattle Police Department detective named J.P. Beaumont. The book was set in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, which was called the Denny Regrade before it was gentrified in the 1990s.

“I lived in the Denny Regrade for a number of years,” Jance explains. “When I started writing about Beaumont, I was a single parent with two little kids and a full-time job. I had to set what I was writing in a place I didn’t have to go do any research!”

Jance has published 23 novels and one novella featuring the detective. Like the neighborhood where he lives, Beaumont has evolved from an embittered alcoholic to a high-rise dwelling, happily remarried grandfather.

Beaumont makes a cameo appearance in the author’s latest book, “Dance of the Bones.” It’s the fifth in a series that features Brandon Walker and his family. Jance’s two other series feature TV newswoman turned sleuth Ali Reynolds and Sheriff Joanna Brady.

Happily remarried herself, Jance splits her time between Bellevue, Washington and Arizona. Although she’s just published a book, she’s already busy with two more.

“Don’t say I’m a prolific writer” she cautions.

But it’s hard to come up with another adjective that so aptly applies.

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