Book Review: Kissing Arizona by Elizabeth Gunn

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
First the obligatory disclaimer: I know Elizabeth Gunn. Not only have I seen her at a few book signings around Tucson, I attended the
Pima County Attorney's Office Citizens Prosecution Academy with her last year. She's a charming lady and I enjoyed talking with her before the class and during breaks. With the housekeeping out of the way, on to the book.

"Kissing Arizona" is the third Sarah Burke mystery and the first I've read in this series. Detective Sarah Burke is a homicide detective with the Tucson Police Department. Sarah is confronted with two cases to solve in this book. One is the apparent murder-suicide of a husband and wife, co-owners of a prominent local business. The second involves known criminals, the DEA, and an investigation that they hope will lead to jail time for the principal leaders of a prominent gang.

I have to admit, I wasn't grabbed by the homicide cases. They actually seemed to be subplots in this book rather than the focus of the story. I was also disappointed that I didn't get to know the heroine better. There didn't seem to be much depth to her. Detective Burke doesn't have much passion, either for her job or for her boyfriend. A series character has to be someone you care about deeply and I just didn't find that happening for me. Maybe if I had read the previous two books in the series, I would have gotten to know Sarah Burke and just enjoyed following along as she solved the crimes. But I felt cheated by reading this book.

The real emotion of this story is with two teen-aged girls who have nothing to do with the murders. First we have Denny, Sarah's niece whom she took in after Sarah's sister "went postal in a parking lot" and her brother couldn't make an adequate home for Denny out on his ranch. Denny's biggest fear is that her aunt won't be able to care for her and she'll lose the security of her home. Having a homicide detective for a guardian doesn't lend itself to regular hours. When her grandmother has to go to the hospital, Denny is anxious that things will all fall apart.

The second girl is Vicki, whose father carried her across the border when she was an infant, and who has lived in Tucson most of her life. Although Mexican by birth, Vicki cannot imagine living anywhere other than the United States. When her illegal status is discovered and she is sent back to Mexico, a country she knows nothing about, her only desire is to return to Tucson. This leads her on a series of adventures and misadventures as she seeks to get back to what is home for her.

Vicki is the character who inspires the reader to get emotionally involved. Elizabeth Gunn makes a strong case for those children who, through no fault of their own, have been raised in one country and forced to return to another, a country they know nothing about.

This was an easy read of 200 pages, something light to pass away a warm evening. I'm not sure whether I will read another in the series, though. There was nothing compelling about Sarah to make me want to follow her next case. But, since I like Elizabeth Gunn, I might take the first book in the series, "Cool in Tucson", out of the library and see if I can get to know Sarah Burke a little better.

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