MysteryPeople’s Top 5 Texas Mysteries of 2013

1. The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

A mix of Southern Gothic, crime, and western with that distinctive Lansdale voice. A young man journeys with the son of slaves, a whore, and a dwarf bounty hunter seeking justice and his abducted sister in turn-of-the-last-century Texas. A grand yarn told in high style.

 

2.  The Right Side Of Wrong by Reavis Wortham

A group of Texas lawmen have to contend with the new drug business and the violence it brings to their part of the state in the early ’60s, causing them to cross lines both geographic and moral. Great sense of time and place with one hell of a climactic gun battle.

 

death rides again3. Death Rides Again by Janice Hamrick

Jocelyn Shore visits the small town where she grew up for a Thanksgiving family reunion to find her cousin, Ruby June, missing and Ruby June’s husband murdered. Janice Hamrick’s light, funny mystery takes on some heavy ideas about family, relationships, and modern small towns.

 

4. These Mortal Remains by Milton T. Burton

If Chandler ended up in east Texas, he may have written something like this tale of a small town sheriff dealing with race, politics, and three murders. An involved plot, pitch perfect tone, and rich voice make this one engaging novel.

 

5. Long Fall From Heaven by Milton T Burton and George Weir

To solve the murder of their friend, two private security men in 1980s Galveston have to also uncover a string of murders that happened on the island during World War II. Filled with dark secrets and Lone Star history, both authors blend their styles to create an involving and moody thriller.

MP Review: DEATH RIDES AGAIN by Janice Hamrick

Death Rides Again by Janice Hamrick

 

Janice Hamrick’s understanding of human behavior and emotion brings a depth and weight to a subgenre of mystery often referred to as “light.” Her Austin high school teacher protagonist Jocelyn Shore, a realist who would like to be a romantic with a sense of justice and protective love of her own, is willing to get her hands dirty to find the killer. In her latest, Death Rides Again, Hamrick makes murder a family affair. A great opening sentence that sets up plot, tone, and her heroine’s voice:

“The day Eddy Cranny got himself murdered started out bad and went downhill from there…especially for Eddy.”

We first meet Eddy when he’s being threatened with a shotgun by Jocelyn’s uncle Kel. Jocelyn and her cousin Kyla, who often serves as her Watson, have traveled to their hometown of Sandcreek, Texas for a Thanksgiving family reunion. Needless to say, we soon find out they aren’t the Brady Bunch as Jocelyn intercedes the shotgun incident after Kel discovers Eddy has been beating on his girlfriend Ruby June; Jocelyn’s cousin and Kel’s daughter. After the situation is diffused, they discover that Ruby June is gone.

Jocelyn and Kyla’s search for for their cousin takes them around Sand Creek, skillfully rendered by Hamrick in its decorative limbo between Thanksgiving and Christmas, introducing us to its citizens and suspects outside the family. After the search proves fruitless, they return to the ranch where Collin, Jocelyn’s cop boyfriend (or possible boyfriend, which is dealt with in a subplot) is waiting. Later that night, they discover Eddie’s body in his pickup.

The mystery involves corruption, horse racing, drug cartels, and even lions, tigers, and bears. Most of all, it explores family dynamics. As an author introducing so many characters, Hamrick understands the use of stereotypes, as well as how we do this to our own family members, then quickly begins to shade them with dimension. Much of the humor involves how little doubt Jocelyn has in her family being involved with blackmail and murder. Hamrick also looks at the tribalism of family. Jocelyn may refer to half her clan as “rabid hillbillies hopped up on Judge Judy and reruns of CSI”, but nobody else better insult or mess with them.

Death Rides Again shows Janice Hamrick’s skill as an author. Her style serves her characters and story without heavy author flourishes. Being naturally unique, hers is an effortless voice (the kind that much effort and talent are poured into) that easily moves from humorous, romantic, suspenseful, and poignant, because it is so human. It’s a voice I look forward to hearing again.

 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Janice Hamrick

Janice Hamrick’s series featuring Jocelyn Shore (or her “Death” series, as you might call it), is a breath of fresh air. It borrows elements from several subgenres and plants them in the traditional mystery form. In her latest, Death Rides Again, the Austin high school teacher is back in her small Texas hometown, dealing with her family and their relationships as much as she does with murder. If that sounds too “cozy” or soft, there’s gun play, drug cartels, and a great action climax with a lion (trust me, it works). Janice was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book, Texas, and family. For the record, she is the only only author I know who redacts her own swear words.

death rides again
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Death Rides Again is your most Texas book. As a transplant, what makes living in the Lone Star state a unique experience?

JANICE HAMRICK: I LOVE Texas. Living here is a constant reminder of the American experience and the character and strength of the people that settled the West. I can’t drive five minutes outside the city without wondering how the heck people traveled even half an hour through such harsh country, let alone for weeks on end. The land itself is completely unforgiving. The creeks are dry ninety-five percent of the time; the other five percent they’re flash flooding. The plants are designed to kill you – if they aren’t poisonous, they’re covered in thorns. The animals are worse. Fire ants, snakes, coyotes, hawks – we’ve got ‘em all. We’re actually warned not to leave small dogs outside because they can be scooped up by birds of prey. (I have a little dog, but she’s chunky enough that it would take a pterodactyl to lift her, and the last time I checked even Texas doesn’t have those.) The best thing is that Texans seem to take it all in stride.

MP: What makes it a great state to write about?

JH: Everything’s bigger (and better) in Texas! For one thing, Texans have a real sense of state pride and identity. I travel a great deal, and no matter where I go, everyone “knows” Texas. I think a lot of Europeans secretly believe that we still ride horses and carry guns – an impression I would never try to correct, because on a certain level it just seems right. For writers, Texas is less a setting and more of a character in its own right. Who wouldn’t love writing about it?

MP: One thing I loved about the book is while Jocelyn’s love for her family is evident, she can believe many of them are capable of blackmail and murder. What did you want to explore with family dynamics in this book?

JH: Family dynamics are always rich fodder for a writer. I think most of us deeply believe that we ourselves are completely normal, while other people (especially family members) are bat-sh** crazy. Family members are simply the crazies we can’t avoid, especially around the holidays. Jocelyn is a lot of fun because she has a pretty realistic opinion of people in general and of her relatives in particular. The fact that she believes some family members are capable of blackmail and murder doesn’t in any way lessen her love and probably actually increases her respect for them.

MP: Every time I start to give Jocelyn’s cousin, Kyla, the benefit of the doubt, she does something extremely self centered or puts Jocelyn in an uncomfortable situation. What does the relationship between the two of them provide for you?

JH: Although they’re cousins, Kyla and Jocelyn are closer than most sisters, and they have a certain amount of sibling rivalry going on most of the time. You’ve heard the old joke about an older brother protecting the younger one from a bully and saying “No one beats up my brother…except me.” Kyla is a lot like that.  She loves Jocelyn, but she’s not above poking the bear, whether for her own amusement or because she thinks Jocelyn needs a sharp nudge. For Jocelyn, Kyla is the fun, adventurous, flamboyant soul that she’d like to be, if she had the nerve and the complete lack of social filters. For a writer, that kind of complex relationship provides infinite possibilities.

MP: While you get categorized as a  “cozy” or “light” mystery author, your books have enough gunfire, beatings, corruption, and drug cartels to keep a hard boiled fan like myself engaged. How would you describe the series?

JH: I think of the books as traditional mysteries with a dash of humor and romance, and I think they are a little edgier than the typical “cozy” mystery. I’m actually happy they don’t easily fit into a category, because I’d like readers to consider the stories and characters individually and not start with a lot of preconceived ideas. Of course, it bites me in the…well, you know what…when a reader gets upset by something they weren’t expecting.

MP: What makeS Jocelyn a character worth returning to for you?

JH: I love Jocelyn’s blend of optimism and realism. She has a lot of insight into the people around her, and she is perfectly able to see the darker side of their characters and motivations, but at the same time she honestly likes most of them. Even for people she actually does distrust or dislike, she is still able to feel some empathy or understanding. Her ability to take the good with the bad is the key to all her relationships as well as to much of the humor in the book.  I also really like the way in which she was feeling pretty fragile and damaged after her divorce (in Death on Tour), but has slowly started regaining her sense of confidence and strength without ever turning bitter.

If you have your own questions for Janice, she’ll be here at BookPeople, this Wednesday, June 19th at 7pm signing and discussing Death Rides Again. Join us! 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Janice Hamrick

Austin’s Janice Hamrick submitted her manuscript for Death On Tour for the Minataur/MWA First Mystery Competion and won herself a publishing deal. Her second book, Death Makes The Cut, is even better. Janice has gotten to be one of our favorite writers both on the page and in person. She was even kind enough to answer a few questions.


MYSTERYPEOPLE: How different was writing your second Jocelyn Shore book compared to the first?

JANICE HAMRICK: The writing itself came more easily. Having gone through the process once gave me more confidence when I ran into a snag or couldn’t figure out something. Knowing that I would be able to work through it and having developed some techniques from the first book made it go more smoothly.  It was also far more intense. In Death on Tour, the murder victims as well as the group of suspects were all strangers to Jocelyn, which made the deaths and the mystery shocking, but not painful. In Death Makes the Cut, Jocelyn is on home ground. The murder victim was a close friend and mentor. The suspects are all people she knows or thinks she knows. This is a very personal story for Jocelyn…and therefore for me. I admit I actually cried a couple of times while writing. How pathetic is that?

MP: You did a great job of portraying the high school teachers with their gossiping and cliques that rival the students’. As somebody who isn’t a teacher, how did you approach that world?

JH: To some extent, everyone shares a common high school experience. The wonderful but often weird teachers, the underhanded school politics, the intense competition is something everyone knows from their own student days. As far as I can tell nothing has changed at all (unless it has actually intensified) over the years. In addition, I experienced high school life and clubs as a parent volunteer and I also got to hear some pretty hair-raising stories told by my kids and their friends.  The astonishing mixture of high ideals and cruelty, of ruthless competition and overwhelming generosity all blend together seamlessly in every high school activity that I witnessed. Honestly, sometimes I felt like a puppy dropped into a shark tank.

MP: You use Austin locales with as much detail as you described Egypt in Death On Tour. What does setting provide for you as a writer?

JH: Setting is reality, and without a solid physical location, a story just isn’t grounded. In some novels (for example, in Death on Tour), the location is almost another character – the story really could not take place anywhere else. Even when the setting isn’t a major player, the overall ambience, the physical distances, even things like the weather, all come together to bring the story to life.

MP: Death On Tour reminded me a bit of the Audrey Hepburn/Carey Grant film, Charade, with the romance between Jocelyn and Alan taking as much precedence as the thriller aspects. In Death Makes The Cut, you put her in the center of a love triangle. Are the romantic comedy aspects of Jocelyn’s life as important as whatever mystery she’s in?

JH: Definitely.  Jocelyn is someone who has her professional life together – she loves being a teacher, she’s very good at it, and she has a great deal of confidence. But she’s had really bad luck (or made bad choices if you prefer) in her personal life. She’s already been divorced and her first husband is a real tool. She thinks she’s found love with Alan, but after a super start, their relationship is faltering. I find the contrast between her contained and controlled professional life with her messy personal life fascinating. I also love that whether things are going well or not, she tempers romance with a lot of humor. Her ideal man is also going to have to be her best friend. And now I’m going to go watch Charade – you have me really curious.

MP: You get a little rougher in this book, with Jocelyn getting beat up and packing a gun. Was it fun writing a more hard boiled “light” mystery?

JH: It was both fun and more challenging for me. The somewhat rougher, darker events grew naturally from the personal nature of the events and the characters. I enjoyed having Jocelyn care so deeply about Fred’s death. I also liked making the events both real and somewhat disturbing.  The light and humorous side of Jocelyn’s character permeate all aspects of her life, but she got thrown into the deep end in this story, and I wanted to be able to explore what that would mean to her. I think many of us have a flippant, half cynical attitude about daily life, but occasionally reality rips through the deck, and it was really interesting to look at that side of things.

MP: Can you hint at what’s next for Jocelyn?

JH: Murder, romance, and family crises, and not necessarily in that order. The third book in the series will find Jocelyn attended a Thanksgiving family reunion at her uncle’s ranch in central Texas. She and Kyla arrive to find their cousin is missing, the cousin’s husband is dead, and more than one family member is a prime suspect. Add a fixed horse race, a clandestine rendezvous at the rodeo, and a wild-card 95 year old uncle, and Jocelyn just might start contemplating the advantages of changing her name and moving to a deserted island.

Come out Friday, July 27th, 7pm when Janice discusses and signs Death Makes The Cut. Join us for a drink and celebrate a local author who is going places. Copies of Death Makes the Cut are available on our shelves and from www.bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: DEATH MAKES THE CUT

MysteryPeople welcomes Janice Hamrick to BookPeople this Friday, July 27 at 7p.

Last year Janice Hamrick debuted with Death On Tour, a book that won the Minotaur/MWA First Novel competition and introduced us to Austin high school teacher Jocelyn Shore who had to solve a murder on her discount tour through Egypt. The book’s mix of Hitchcock style thriller and romantic comedy, infused with Hamrick’s eye for human detail, made a great read for fans of light mysteries as well as winning over some of us hard boiled fans. With her latest, Death Makes The Cut, Janice Hamrick proves that it wasn’t just beginner’s luck.

In the first book, Jocelyn mentions her experiences as a teacher helps her solve the crime. In the new book, Hamrick puts Jocelyn right in her element with the murder of the tennis coach on the first day of school. The plot deals with possible drug dealing, a Twilight-like movie being shot on campus, school politics and angry parents all putting her own life in jeopardy.

Jocelyn also finds herself in a love triangle. She starts to wonder about her feelings for Alan, who she met in Death On Tour, when the investigating detective, Colm Gallagher, makes himself available for her. There is a very funny scene when the two men meet one another with Jocelyn in between them. Even her ex-husband shows up.

Where Hamrick excels is in her use of the school setting. She shows the gossip between Jocelyn and her fellow educators with ease and believability. She depicts them having as many cliques as the students. She weaves the school politics, bureaucracy, and general soap opera atmosphere into the plot, proving that people are most vicious when the stakes are so low. She also  looks at the happiness the job can bring, especially when Jocelyn becomes the defacto tennis coach.

In Jocelyn Shore, Janice Hamrick has given us a character worth following. She is a smart, every day woman dealing with situations that are over her head in a believable way. What makes her even more relatable is the way she becomes frustrated by her own emotions as much as she’s frustrated by the corner criminals back her into. Start reading and before long you’ll see why it’s not just Alan and Detective Gallagher falling for Jocelyn Shore, it’s readers, too.

MysteryPeople welcomes Janice Hamrick to BookPeople to speak about and sign Death Makes the Cut this Friday, July 27 at 7pm.

On Sale Today: DEATH MAKES THE CUT

The latest book from award-winning Austin mystery author Janice Hamrick is on our shelves today. In Death Makes the Cut, single high school teacher Jocelyn Shore has to deal with the murder of a colleague, filling in as the tennis coach, and a homicide detective who is taken with her. We’re big fans of Janice’s first book, Death on Tour, and are thrilled to celebrate this new book with her on Friday, July 27 at 7p. Come out and discover why we’re so taken with Janice both in print and in person.

Congratulations, Janice!