- Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
A hard land with a difficult history, Texas has always lent itself well to crime fiction. From the crime fiction greats who helped define the genre to those writers shaping the landscape of crime fiction today, Texas has a long tradition of social critiques and sendoffs of hypocrisy (the hallmarks of Texas crime fiction, in my opinion) delivered via murder mystery. Tales of Texas history may gaslight their audiences into believing in the state as a land of triumph, but we crime fiction readers know the dark, murderous truth about the land we call home….
Below, you’ll find an incomplete (of necessity) guide to Texas crime fiction, brought to y’all in honor of Texas Mystery Writers Month (that is, May). Emphasis is placed on well-known classic writers and the wide array of new crime fiction released in the past few years. We know we’re leaving out quite a few of the Texas mystery writer greats, and many of the good one-off novels. Some have gone out of print; others have simply dropped off our radar as we find new voices to champion.
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The Fisher King is an involving follow up to to Stillwater, Melissa Lenhardt’s small town hard boiled featuring Jack McBride, a newly appointed police chief in his Texas hometown up a against a corrupt political fixer. Here the battle deepens and continues in an engaging manner. Our Meike Alana caught up with Melissa who with be discussing small town crime fiction with Terry Shames and James Ziskin at BookPeople on Tuesday, January 24th, at 7 PM.
- Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana
Meike Alana: Your fictional town of Stillwater faces an issue that confronts many small Texas towns—the age old conflict between maintaining the integrity of small town life and embracing the growth that would generate jobs and income. Was there a particular town that you modelled Stillwater after?
Melissa Lenhardt: A few years ago I attended a Texas historical conference and heard an academic speak about two west Texas towns within twenty miles of each other that had two very different histories. One town was a boom and bust town, whose fortunes relied on the success of the latest industry, usually oil and gas. The other town focused on steadier, slower growth. They never got so caught up in the boom that they neglected to nurture other aspects of their economy.
I thought it would be interesting to explore these two opposing civic ideas in my fictional town of Stillwater. Joe Doyle likes the boom and bust model because he’s gotten rich from it either way. When people are doing well, they use his legitimate businesses. When things are going poorly, his illegal business is there to make people feel better. Being a master manipulator, he uses the nostalgia argument to convince good people to go along with his ideas. Ellie, on the other hand, sees the town is dying, and knows the boom and bust path isn’t sustainable, especially when young people are leaving, instead of moving in.
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- Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana
Melissa Lenhardt’s new Jack McBride mystery, The Fisher King, comes out today, and we decided to make this gem of a Texas noir our pick of the month for November.
Last year Melissa Lenhardt blew us away with her debut, the Texas noir Stillwater. Set in the titular small town, it introduced us to Stillwater’s new chief of police, former FBI agent Jack McBride. With a low crime rate and a 5-man police force, the new gig should have been a piece of cake; instead, Jack is immediately confronted with the town’s first crime wave in 30 years.
Jack’s fresh start in Stillwater stems from personal reasons —a year before, his wife walked out with no warning, and when she wasn’t immediately located, Jack’s fellow police officers suspected that he may have engineered her disappearance. Jack eventually found her (and her much younger lover) and retreated to Stillwater with his teenage son Ethan to escape her memory and the cloud of suspicion that remains. As he finds his way in the new town, he forges an immediate bond with local businesswoman Ellie Martin and a heated affair ensues.
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