- Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana
Terry Shames introduced us to aging lawman Samuel Craddock just over 3 years ago in A Killing at Cotton Hill, the first in a Texas-based mystery series that has quickly become one of our favorites at MysteryPeople. Set in the fictional small town of Jarrett Creek, the series features the former Chief of Police; at loose ends in retirement and mourning the death of his beloved wife Jeanne, Samuel steps in as acting police chief until the bankrupt town can afford to hire a replacement.
Macavity Award winner Shames’ latest, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, is a prequel that takes us back to Samuel’s early days in the 1960’s as a woefully inexperienced 20-something police chief confronted by his first serious crime. The Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to extinguish a fire in the outskirts of town (a section the residents refer to as “Darktown”) and makes a horrific discovery—the blaze seems to have been set to obscure the grisly murder of 5 black youths.
The Texas Highway Patrol assumes control of the case, and Samuel takes an immediate dislike to the racist trooper in charge of the investigation, John Sutherland. Sutherland quickly arrests Truly Bennett, a local young black man whom Samuel knows and respects. Although Sutherland’s evidence against Truly is dubious at best, Samuel realizes that the law works differently for black men in 1960’s Texas. He has to make an important choice, one that will define him as a lawman and as a man—does he follow protocol and allow the THP to control the case, or does he run his own investigation and try to clear Truly?
At the same time, Samuel is confronted by a growing drug problem in Jarrett Creek. When a high school girl is hospitalized following a reaction to drugs provided by a classmate, Samuel realizes he must find the source of the drugs before someone ends up dead. As he delves more deeply into the local drug trade, he begins to sense that there may have been a hidden agenda behind the town leaders’ decision to hire him as Chief of Police.
Although this would be a great starting point for a reader new to the series, Shames’ fans will enjoy meeting characters that have only been alluded to in Samuel’s memories. The novel is set during the early days of Samuel’s marriage to Jeanne, a time when the pair are still finding their way as a couple—there are signs that they may never have the children they so desperately long for, and Jeanne is troubled by the demands of Samuel’s new vocation. Samuel’s mother, with whom he has a difficult relationship, is still alive. We learn the history of Samuel’s troubled bond with his brother Horace, who lives nearby with his wife Donna and their son, Samuel and Jeanne’s dear nephew Tom. And we witness the delivery of Samuel’s beloved cows, which provide purpose and a sort of companionship in Samuel’s later years.
You can find copies of An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Terry Shames comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her latest on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM. She’ll be joined by James W. Ziskin and Melissa Lenhardt, fellow masters of the small-town mystery.