Joyrides and Family Feuds: MysteryPeople Q&A with Reavis Wortham

  • Interviewed by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

We’re happy to be hosting Reavis Z. Wortham this Friday, October 21st, at 7 PM, as part of a panel discussion with Rob Hart and Tim Bryant. His latest in his Red River series, Unraveled, has the lawmen of Central Springs, Texas, as well as teen cousins Top and Pepper, contend with the fallout from a car crash. The accident injures two people of the opposite sex and race, who belong to opposite sides of a feuding family. We caught up with him to discuss the book, music, and the book’s 1968 setting.

MysteryPeople Scott: I know Unraveled was inspired by a song. What was it about the tune that sparked the idea for a novel?

Reavis Z. Wortham: I’m a huge country music fan, and by that I mean traditional country and not the bubble-gum rock and roll hick rap crap that’s out there right now. Sorry if I’ve alienated any readers, but good country tells a story, sometimes about the good things in life, but mostly death, cheating, troubles, heartache, misery, and Life that’s wrested from the ground by blood, sweat, and hard work. You know, the fun stuff to sing about…or listen to. It’s played with three chords in 3/4 or 4/4 time, and touches the heart.

A couple of years ago I was on a road trip, listening to an old song about two people who shouldn’t have been in a car together. I’d heard it a hundred times since it first came on in the Old Man’s pickup back in the ‘60s and it continued to resonate through the decades. I must have been in just the right mood when it came on that day and the subject matter inspired me to tinker around with a short story that quickly evolved into an entire novel, Unraveled, because it’s about people’s lives unraveling in more than one way.

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Top Five Texas Authors of 2015

  • List compiled by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

This year authors from our home state showcased the wide breadth of story material to be found in the state of Texas.The novels below take a look at past and present, with settings ranging from small towns to our big cities, often showing how the Lone Star State effects the United States.


97800622594001. Pleasantville by Attica Locke

An involving story of a lawyer with a murder client tied to a current election in the early Nineties, Attica Locke’s latest novel delves into Houston’s black society and the relationship between Texas and U.S. politics. Locke uses a legal thriller set-up and private eye approach to show how the social and institutional interact. You can find copies of Pleasantville on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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Special Crime Fiction Sunday: “Chocolate Moose” by Bill and Judy Crider

We are happy to have Texas genre writer extraordinaire Bill Crider joining us for an evening of Lone Star Crime with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder. They’ll be here at the store on Monday, September 28th, at 7 PM. Bill will be reading from his latest Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery, Between The Living & The Dead. If you are not familiar with his Clearwater, Texas lawman here’s a taste from the Anthony Award winning short story he wrote with his wife. It even has a chicken fried steak recipe. Can you get more Texas?

“Chocolate Moose” by Bill and Judy Crider

“Sheriff Dan Rhodes didn’t go to the Round-Up Restaurant often, but not because the food wasn’t good. He didn’t go because the food was too good.

The portable sign out front told the story with black letters on a white background: ABSOLUTELY NO CHICKEN FISH OR VEGETARIAN DISHES CAN BE FOUND ON OUR MENU!

What could be found were huge chicken-fried steaks and mashed potatoes smothered in cream gravy; big, soft rolls served with real butter; cooked-to-order T-bones marbled with fat on a plate beside a gigantic baked potato slathered with real butter, sour cream, and bacon bits; hamburger steaks with grilled onions piled high, along with a mound of french-fries or, if you preferred, hand-cut and battered onion rings. And, for dessert, there was a choice of peach or cherry cobbler with vanilla ice cream on top. If you didn’t like cobbler, there was chocolate pie, with the best, the richest, the sweetest filling that Rhodes had ever tasted under its inch-thick meringue.

In other words, the Round-Up served good, solid food that stuck to your ribs, put a smile on your face, and, according to many leading physicians, filled your coronary arteries with substances whose effect on your health it was better not to think about. Which was why Rhodes rarely ate there.  His wife, Ivy, had him on a low-fat regimen that was taking inches off his waistline and, she claimed, adding years to his life. As Rhodes pulled the county car into the Round-Up’s black-topped parking lot, he wished, in spite of the risk to his longevity, that he were going there to have a big slice of chocolate pie, or, failing that, maybe one of those baked potatoes.  But he wasn’t. He was going to see about a man who’d been killed by a moose.


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Austin Mystery Writers Present: MURDER ON WHEELS edited by Ramona DeFelice Long

murder on wheels

– Post by Molly

Come by the store on Tuesday, August 11, at 7 PM up on BookPeople’s second floor, for a great home-grown event. Presented by Austin Mystery Writers, and edited by Ramona DeFelice Long, Murder on Wheels: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move has deliciously dangerous tales contributed by many of our favorite authors. Kathy Waller, Reavis Wortham, and MysteryPeople’s own crime fiction coordinator, Scott Montgomery, will all be present at BookPeople’s Murder on Wheels event to speak and sign this collection. A share of profits goes to Meals on Wheels.

Murder on Wheels contains many different settings, subgenres and approaches to its theme. Kaye George, in her forward, details the collection’s origin: “The genesis was a ride my husband took…on the Megabus…I started thinking that the bus would make a good setting for a murder…There was one problem – where to hide the body. So I asked the group, Austin Mystery Writers, for suggestions.” From this initial discussion, sprang enough ideas for a collection, and thus Murder on Wheels came to be on our shelves.

“A Nice Set of Wheels,” by Kathy Waller, delivers a Great Depression-era story of longing and wanderlust in a small Southern town. “Family Business,” by Reavis Wortham, relates the twists and turns of an unlucky family of bootleggers through the generations. V. P. Chandler’s “Rota Fortunae” gets mystical with a tattoo of a ship’s wheel and a story of transatlantic unrest,  while Gale Albright’s “Mome Rath, My Sweet” sends a private eye down the rabbit hole in a hard-boiled retelling of Alice in Wonderland.

Kaye George and Earl Staggs shift the focus to public transportation with their respective stories, “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” and “Dead Man on a School Bus.” Laura Oles looks at how a “family business” deals with outsiders in “Buon Viaggio.”  Gale Albright’s “Apokalypse Now” tackles the dangers of bicycle obsession, especially in a marriage. Scott Montgomery’s tale of generosity gone sour, “Red’s White F-150 Blues,” is a properly Texan tale of trucks, Conan the Barbarian obsession, and increasingly bad decisions. Each story fits with the theme of wheels in a different, unique, and often funny way.

You can find copies of Murder on Wheels on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by the store Tuesday, August 11, for a speaking and signing event with several of the collection’s authors, including our very own Scott Montgomery!

MysteryPeople Q&A with George Wier


George Wier is best know for his pulp influenced yarns involving Austin hired gun, Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, is a bit more serious (although there is plenty of humor) following a West Texas sheriff who has to deal with a man returning to town after he got him out of murder charge that he thought was wrong, though many in town believed he did it. We caught up with George Weir before he participates in our May 23rd workshop to ask him a few questions.

MysteryPeople: Murder In Elysium has a much different tone than the work you’re known for. What drew you to the story?

George Wier: The idea of the question of guilt or innocence drew me in, initially. I’m from a small Texas town, originally, and the townsfolk seemed to be 1) a tad insular, and 2) opinionated. If, in their eyes, someone was guilty, then usually their minds were made up and they were already on to “bigger and better things.” It didn’t matter that they weren’t there when the thing happened, or what the weight of the evidence was one way or the other, or even the lack of evidence. If you were guilty, well, that was it. Game over, fellah! But from the point of view of the person on the receiving end of the justice system, I wanted to paint a picture of a guy who was on the inside–and I’m saying all that and trying not to give anything away, of course. I think I managed to do that.

MP: Shane Robeling is much more laconic and says fewer words than most of the heroes you’ve written. How much of a challenge was that?

GA taciturn character is far easier portray when you’re writing in first person. You get to give the character’s viewpoint without a lot of dialogue in the way, and you get to paint the bulk of the picture of the other characters through their dialogue; their interactions with the main character. Most importantly, I didn’t want Shane Robeling to be Bill Travis. Shane has the professional law enforcement background that Travis lacks. He’s an insider in that world and he drew the short straw with the FBI, and this has left him jaded him, somewhat. I wanted that to come out as well. Also, I wanted to take him from his federal cases and put him in a small town setting (such as that where I grew up) and see how he would do. In a small town, everything is far more personal. There isn’t a wall between you and the rest of the world. In a small town, you rely on your neighbors. You know them and they know you. And it’s always a surprise to find out how well they know you. I think Shane does all right in Elysium. I wasn’t so sure when I started out with him, but now I’m rather proud of him. You’re right, he doesn’t say much, and I wanted what he didn’t say to be as salient as what he did.

3. The book reminds me of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series in the colorful deputies and townsfolk who help the characters. Was there any particular one who was fun to write for?

GThe two characters, M.L. “Mucho Love” Harper and Marlene, were my two favorites. I got to throw the kitchen sink into these two characters, even though they have supporting roles. I had so much fun with Mucho Love that I am now mid-way through the prequel, which is tentatively entitled Sentinel In Elysium. It stars Mucho Love as Elysium’s Police Chief (Shane’s role, later on), and all the action takes place in 1975, two years before the Fogel murder, which was the springboard for Murder In Elysium (even though all the action for the first book takes place after the turn of the millennium). In Sentinel, the reader gets to find out why it is that Mucho Love is no longer the police chief, and never will be again. I’m nearing the halfway point in the book, and it’s rather dark, but it’s also humorous and surprising. At this point, it’s my new favorite. Marlene is in there as well.

The town of Elysium, though, is probably the main supporting character for each of these books. In the prequel, I’m latching onto the opportunity to explain everything that’s in Murder In Elysium as far as the layout of the town and its history—how the Blitz Drive-In came about, the community college, the four-plex where the Fogel murder would eventually occur, even why the police department is no longer located in the Courthouse by the time Murder in Elysium rolls around. It’s a lot of fun. No, the town isn’t a thumbnail character sketch. This character has meat on his bones, and skin over the meat, and I did my best to give the skin some real texture. You’ll see. The book will be out, I’m thinking, sometime in May or June. I’m already planning the third book, which will be a proper sequel: the tentative title for which is Elysium Knights.

MP: What draws you to small Texas towns?

GW: I’m originally from a small town. I grew up in the East-Central Texas town of Madisonville during my formative years, and that town has left its stamp on me. I’ll never shake it. Also, there’s a good deal of mystery there. For instance (and this mystery may have long since been solved, but I don’t believe it ever was, officially), we had a firebug in Madisonville all through my childhood and into my adulthood. I believe his reign of terror lasted some thirty years. Every so often there would be a fire on the town square. First, the county courthouse burned when I was no higher than a jackrabbit. Then, spread out every four or five years, each corner of the town square would have a devastating fire. There were never, to my knowledge, any arrests for the arsons, or if there were, it never made any headlines. But…wow! I mean, you go through the town today and you may see the effects of those fires (if you knew about them) but you don’t really see it. Butlet me tell you, those effects are there. So, for me, it’s “what is going on here that nobody sees?” The short answer is, “Plenty!” That’s the real why behind Murder In Elysium. Knowing what I know, how could I not be drawn in?

MP: What is the biggest misconception about them?

GW: The biggest misconception about small towns is that the people are either slow or stupid or some combination of the two. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known was from a small town. His name was Paul Johnson, and he was a bird colonel in Air Force; he flew with the Blue Angels. By the time I knew him, he’d forgotten more about aviation, engineering, and physics than most people at the top of those field get to know in a lifetime, and he was still a font of hidden wisdom and he was sharp as a tack.

I think people tend to equate silence with a lack of knowledge or basic understanding. After all, the truly slow people don’t say much. But it’s sort of like looking across the surface of a tranquil pond in a pastoral setting. It looks plenty peaceful, but underneath the surface of that little lake there’s life and death struggle going on. It’s brutal and there’s a lot of motion that is unseen above. Small towns are like that. As I speak to in the book, they have a certain tempo, a beat, if you will, that you can’t detect simply by passing through. Don’t ever sell a small town or its citizens short. In a pinch you could quickly find yourself regretting it.

MP: What do you hope the reader gets out of Murder In Elysium?

GW: That goes back to the initial premise—guilt versus innocence. Nothing is cut and dry. I feel that justice doesn’t work well in the hands of human beings. Oh, we all have an innate, uncanny sense of justice, but it’s in the meting out of justice where we fall short. The death penalty, for instance, is a permanent fix for a temporary problem, and can’t be undone. A life sentence precludes the possibility of rehabilitation. Quite often, justice misfires. When it does, the effects are devastating. I wanted to plant a tiny seed, that’s all. I’m not overtly saying we have to tear it all down. I’m not saying that. But everything is subject to scrutiny. “Why” is far more important than “how.”

Thanks, Scott. Your questions, as always, make me think, and I do appreciate that. As you know, I’m basically a lazy person, and I don’t like to have to think so much, so thanks for making me articulate all of these things.


You can find copies of Murder In Elysium on our shelves, along with the rest of Mr. Wier’s oeuvre. Come by Saturday, May 23rd, for a workshop on crime writing presented by Sisters in Crime and Austin Mystery Writers, to find out more about writing from some of the most entertaining personalities in the whole detective-novel-writing world. George Wier will be presenting alongside Les Edgerton and Reavis Wortham. The workshop runs from 10 AM to 5 PM, and is free and open to the public. 

MysteryPeople, Austin Mystery Writers, and Sisters in Crime Host Free All-Day Workshop


To celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month, MysteryPeople, along with Austin Mystery Writers and Sisters in Crime, is holding a free workshop for the public on Saturday, May 23rd, starting at 10 AM and going till around 5 PM.  Three of Texas’ top talents of crime fiction will each focus on a certain topic of writing crime fiction.


reavis worthamKicking off the knowledge at 10AM is Reavis Wortham. Reavis is a rising star in the mystery scene, due to his Red River series featuring a group of lawmen and their families in a small Texas town during the Sixties. He’ll be covering the subject of story and plot. You can find copies of Wortham’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

les edgertonAt 11:30 AM, we turn it over to Les Edgerton. Les has had stints as a burglar, convict, teacher, and hairdresser as part of his rich life. He’s put many of those experiences to use in his gritty crime novels like The Bitch and The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping. He’s the perfect person to explore the relationship between protagonist and antagonist. You can find copies of Edgerton’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

george wierAt 2 PM, after a lunch break, George Wier will take us through the editing process. George has made himself  an online success with his Austin “fixer” Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, gives us West Texas sheriff Shane Robeling. You can find copies of George Wier’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


At 3:30PM there will be a panel discussion with Les and George to cover any other topics that those attending would like to learn more about. You can come in for individual portions of the workshop or stay the whole day. Books by the authors will be available for sale and signing. Join up and let these professionals teach you some of the tricks from their trade.

All MysteryPeople events are free and open to the public. Check out our newly updated upcoming events list on our blog to find out more about our summer line-up!