A Killing At Cotton Hill is a debut for both Terry Shames and her protagonist, Samuel Craddock. While not bloody or violent, it resists pulling punches when it comes to small town life, greed, politics, family, and nearing the end of one’s life. The book treats its subject, characters, and readers with respect.
Samuel Craddock is a retired police chief and widower living in the Central Texas town of Cotton Hill, where he’s popular with the local widows. When Dora Lee, one of his peers, is found dead in her home, Samuel is the only one capable of investigating, since the current police chief also doubles as the town drunk. The murder leads him to a stolen painting, land deals, and some dark secrets.
Since Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, the elderly sleuth has been a staple of mystery fiction, but few deal with aging the way this book does. Samuel partly takes the case because he believes Dora should have been given the dignity of a natural death after having dealt with life so long. It also breaks his routine as a widower, pulling him away from the memories of his wife. Those memories always catch up with him, though. The book automatically delves into the community an older generation has in a small town. It shows the solitude they have inside the rest of society. As someone who is in the late part of his life, Sam understands an untimely death.
A Killing at Cotton Hill is also funny, with an engaging plot and sharp characters. It is Shames’ ability to ground their lives, both past and present, completely in their environment that brings an undercurrent of gravity. Her look at people dealing with life and its extraordinary circumstances makes me look forward to her future work.
Terry Shames speaks about & signs A Killing at Cotton Hill here at BookPeople on Friday, August 16 at 7pm. Signed copies can be ordered in advance via our website.