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Funeral Hotdish


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About the Author

Jana Bommersbach is one of Arizona's most respected and acclaimed journalists. She has earned numerous national, state and regional awards, including the prestigious Don Bolles Award for investigative reporting for the newspaper series on Winnie Ruth Judd that led to the eponymous book. She lives in Phoenix.


FUNERAL HOTDISH is a captivating read. Torn between family and the probably biggest story of her career keeps her and us, the readers on our toes. Highly enjoyable.--Dr. Cyntia Lea Clark "Futures (mostly) Mystery Magazine "

As she did in Cattle Kate (2014), veteran crime reporter Bommersbach draws on actual events for this ripped-from-the-headlines novel, which finds an odd but mostly effective way to show both ends of America's illegal drug trade. In Phoenix, Ariz., in 1999, reporter Joya Bonner becomes aware that Mafia turncoat Sammy "the Bull" Gravano is bamboozling the FBI by using his refuge in the Federal Witness Protection Program to run a narcotics ring that's distributing pills all the way to Joya's peaceful hometown of Northville, N.Dak., where the death of 17-year-old Amber Schlener from a bad dose of Ecstasy sparks misguided vigilante violence. In Phoenix, Joya covers the police investigation that nails Sammy and his son. Back home in Northville, she keeps a lazy sheriff from arresting the wrong people - but it's almost certain that the town's smug innocence has been lost. Sharp writing and incisive characterization bring both stories to life.

--Publishers Weekly

Overall, an interesting book. At first I thought I would be quite bored (does anything interesting ever happen in North Dakota?) but about 25% into the book the story began to take shape. A lot of things are going on: a mafia boss in the witness protection program, a drug overdose, and a murder. It doesn't seem like these things have anything to do with a "funeral hotdish" but then things fall into place. There are some genuine small town characters, a stunning description of a cemetery (of all things) and a mystery that will have you guessing until the very end.


This funeral hotdish is more like a good chili a whole lot going on and with a dash of spice....If you want a book that's got twists and turns to boot, has characters you won't forget and heart, then this might be the story for you.

--Long and Short Reviews

I don't know why, but I thought this book had something to do with an Asian restaurant. Don't ask me why. I will tell you that it was a very good book. Sammy "the Bull" Gravano had a bit part in the book. However, the biggest part happened in Joya's midwest hometown. At least, that the was the most thrilling part for me....I felt the author did a good job and really humanized the characters. I would without a doubt recommend this book. (Even without the fried rice, ha!)

FUNERAL HOTDISH by Jana Bommersbach is an excellent novel. The author successfully tells two separate stories and weaves them together in a riveting tale. The book takes the reader into a small town where everyone knows each other and most importantly, cares for each other. They will do whatever needs to be done to protect their fellow townsfolk even if it means hiding a few secrets from outsiders....Though the author even includes the recipe for a funeral hotdish at the end, this debut novel by the author of several true-crime books is no cosy. This is a story of revenge in a place where people are proud to be law-abiding citizens. It's also a very moving and sad tale of what can happen when a close-knit town is filled with grief and has no idea how to deal with it....Here is one terrific story to be read slowly and carefully. You will find yourself grieving along with the main characters and feeling sorry even for drug dealer Darryl.--Reviewing The Evidence

In her second mystery, investigative journalist Bommersbach makes creative use of stories she has covered in real life. Joya Bonner, a Phoenix reporter, is in a caf interviewing a student about possible research fraud on campus, when a man she recognizes as Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, Mafia hit man currently in the witness-protection program after ratting out John Gotti, and wonders what the Bull is doing in town. She asks her homicide-detective boyfriend, who turns out to be involved in an undercover operation investigating Sammy's business ventures, which may include selling recreational substances. The story becomes personal when Joya learns from her family in North Dakota that a teenager is dead and another in a coma after using Ecstasy that may have come from one of Sammy's dealers. This compelling story provides a fascinating look at both small-town life and big-city crime. A good choice for readers who enjoy Hank Phillippi Ryan's Jane Ryland series.


This is different than your typical murder mystery. Joya is a reporter living in Phoenix, Arizona always looking for the next big story. When she stumbles across Sammy 'the Bull' Gravano living in Phoenix and not bothering to hide his identity she confronts her police officer boyfriend about it. Joya knows Sammy should be under the protection of the federal witness protection program. What she doesn't know is that Sammy has a great deal to do with a tragedy in her hometown in North Dakota. A young girl dies and her boyfriend is left in a coma. This tragedy rips apart her small close knit hometown....I enjoyed this story. It had a different twist to your typical murder mystery.


Bommersbach's story follows two tracks: the Phoenix undercover operation against Gravano and the Northville community's response to the drug death. The first, she points out, is based on events that actually took place; the second is her own invention. Both are narrated in the kind of realistic detail that lends the material the feeling of authority. Whether she is describing the rules for the release of police documents or the arrangements for the church dinner after a funeral, she writes with the confidence that comes when an author knows what she is talking about....She is especially good at dealing with the denizens of Northville. These are not only people she knows, they are people she likes. But they are not idealized. They are people with all the flaws of people everywhere. Small town people can be just as self-righteous and morally challenged as their big city cousins. This is no romantic vision of small town America. It is a realistic portrait that takes small town life - warts and all - seriously....Finally, the title: if like me, it means absolutely nothing to you, you will be happy to learn that "funeral hotdish" is the name given to the main meat course served at those Northville church dinners after a funeral. Indeed, Bommersbach includes a recipe for the dish in her notes at the end of the novel.

Funeral Hotdish finds newspaper reporter Joya Bonner pursuing a story about a Mafia hitman for her career in Phoenix while also aiding her family and friends in her small North Dakota hometown after drug overdoses put a boy in a coma and a girl in a casket. Much to Joya's surprise, the overdoses are connected to the story she's investigating. Jana Bommersbach creates plausible yet compelling situations (which seem to at least partly draw upon her own experiences as a journalist in Phoenix) for Joya and the other characters. Bommersbach's descriptive writing makes the scenes vivid and powerful.--My Book Views

Funeral Hotdish begins with the death of 17-year-old Amber Schlener and the coma of her boyfriend, Johnny Roth, at a high school dance. Joya becomes enmeshed in the Gravano story because the Phoenix police suspect Sammy is involved in dealing drugs - and Joya's part-time live-in boyfriend is a Phoenix cop. She is astonished to learn from her mother that Amber, back in tiny Northville, North Dakota, is dead from drug overdose. Northville? With a high school graduating class of 17? Not possible. Or a Phoenix connection?...Some readers may have problems with the shifting points of view as we move from head to head as the chapters move by, even from head to head on a single page. That said, I had no trouble following the POVs and by organizing her story the way she has, Bommersbach is able to give the reader insights and observations she would have been hard-pressed to give from a single POV.


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