Terry Shames showed amazing promise last summer with her debut, A Killing At Cotton Hill. The book, featuring her series character Samuel Craddock, a widowed retired Chief of Police, looked at issues of aging and community in a small Texas town. In her follow up, The Second Death of Jack Harbin, she digs even deeper into Craddock’s story.
Before his own life is cut short, death seems to be a regular part of the title character’s life. Jack Harbin, the former high school football player, witnessed plenty of death in Iraq before he lost his sight and legs in the war. At the beginning of the book, his father and caretaker dies of a heart attack. Then, Samuel finds Jack brutally murdered in his home while stopping by to check in on him. Asked to look further into the killing, Samuel uncovers a shady V.A. home, issues with the local football team, and other dark and complex revelations . Much of the mystery seems to center on a love triangle between Jack, his former best friend, Woody Patterson, and the woman they both love – she married Woody when Jack went off to fight in the war.
In Shames’s world and writing, still rivers run deep. She subtly looks at the effects of war on a small town, the town’s passion for high school football, tested friendships, and broken dreams. Her nuanced touch makes it a truly moving novel. Samuel may have solved the murder, but not the issues surrounding it. The best he can do is serve witness. With his even temper and experienced insight, that may be even more important.
The Last Death Of Jack Harbin is a moving mystery. Like A Killing At Cotton Hill, it focuses on parts of our society we don’t look at enough in a true and engaging fashion. Terry Shames has exceeded expectations for her second book and set higher ones for her third.