Bouchercon, the annual convention that brings together crime writers and their fans, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and what better place to celebrate a golden anniversary than Texas? Timed to coincide with this year’s convention in Dallas, Michael Bracken’s The Eyes of Texas — a collection of Texas PI stories — spotlights the broad range of characters and settings that make up the Lone Star State.
The collection has its share of big city stories set in Houston, Dallas, and Austin but my favorites are those set in disparate, out-of- the way small towns. Some are funny–in William Dylan Powell’s The Haunted Railcar, our hero investigates a possible haunting that might bankrupt Slappy the Clown’s Family Fun Center. Others are poignant—in Sandra Murphy’s Lucy’s Tree an aging PI reminisces about the storm that coincided with his wife’s death as Hurricane Harvey rages around him; Graham Powell’s PI heads into town full of questions—ones to which he might not want the answers—in Blackbirds. And of course some are just plain good mysteries—in The Yellow Rose of Texas, Josh Pachter’s Helmut Erhard investigates the murder of a pretty young English teacher whose body was found with the Texas state flower. Richard Helms perfectly captures the melancholy of a former oil boom town with a dwindling population in See Humble & Die, and Michael Chandos’ West Texas Barbecue describes the melancholic barrenness of West Texas. James A. Hearn’s PI takes a literal Trip Among the Bluebonnets to Lampasas as he keeps an eye on his niece’s husband.
Hurricane Harvey figures prominently in several tales. In Debra Goldstein’s Harvey and the Redhead, a PI who shares a name with the storm meets his match in a mysterious redhead. And in Weathering the Storm, Michael Pool’s tough female PI hunts a serial killer in the worst of the downpour. In Mark Troy’s Shaft on Wheels, a wheelchair bound PI unpacks a really twisted family saga while surrounded by the destruction of the storm’s aftermath.
Austin’s music scene is the backdrop for Scott Montgomery’s No One Owns the Blues, which introduces the reader to contemplative PI Tin Man as he takes on a case for a former flame. The town becomes the butt of a joke in Stephen Rogers’ Purple & Blue when a Boston cop loses a football bet and lands in the Texas capitol (never bet against Tom Brady).
A few of the stories tackle social issues. Trey Barker examines multiple ways to gain revenge on an abuser in Chasing the Straight. And Chuck Bowman examines race and immigration in Unwritten Rules.
And what PI anthology would be complete without some infidelity? Robert S Levinson’s In Cowtown is a twisted tale of cheating, jealousy, and rage set in and around Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s. In John M. Floyd’s Triangles an aging PI unwittingly joins a love triangle. And in Bev Vincent’s The Patience of Kane a pregnant woman wants to know how her husband died—even if she learns he may have been unfaithful.
Meike is a part-time bookseller and full-time Mystery buff. You can find her recommendations in-store and online now.
Purchase The Eyes of Texas from BookPeople online and in-store now. And be sure to join us up on BookPeople’s third floor on November 19th at 7PM when Scott Montgomery sits down with editor Michael Bracken and contributor James A. Hearn to discuss all things Texas mystery.