A (Partial) Atlas of Texas Crime Fiction

  • 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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MysteryPeople Review: AN UNSETTLING CRIME FOR SAMUEL CRADDOCK by Terry Shames

  • Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

97816338820961Terry 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.

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Coming Up on May 21st: Our Annual Free Crime Fiction Workshop!

 

Presented by Sisters in Crime and MysteryPeople

Our annual free workshop to celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month with Sisters In Crime will start at 9:15, Saturday May 21st. Throughout the morning and afternoon Texas writers will share their knowledge. It is great for aspiring authors in any genre and for readers curious about the author’s process. This year we have a broad range of criminal wordsmiths. Our schedule is below:

9:15 AM

Orientation

Meet the authors and get a brief overview of the creative day to come!

9:30 – 10:30 AM

George Wier On Action Writing

George Wier, author of the successful Bill Travis series, puts you through the paces of a fine tuned action sequence and shows you how to ratchet up the tension.

11:00 AM- Noon

Terry Shames On Character And Setting Interaction

Terry Shames’ Samuel Craddock novels have been praised for their depictions of small town life. The award winning author shows how to make setting another character with whom your protagonist has a relationship.

Noon – 1:30 PM

Lunch Break

Don’t just use this time to eat. Ask a fellow attendee you don’t know to join you and start networking.

1:30 – 2:30 PM

Brent Douglass & James Dennis On Collaboration

Brent and James make up 2/3rds of the pen name of Mile Arceneux with their friend John Davis. They will show you how to write about murder without killing your partner.

3:00-4:00 PM

Panel Discussion With Authors

Is there something the authors didn’t cover or was there a subject we didn’t hit upon? Here’s your chance. After a quick Q&A with the authors by MysteryPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, the authors take questions from you.

Attend which topics you’d like or stay all day. It is completely free. Books by the authors will be on sale. Bring, paper, pen, and your criminal mind.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Terry Shames’ latest Samuel Craddock novel, The Necessary Murder Of Nonie Blake, deals with identity and family in a small town. When a woman is murdered upon her return from years in a mental hospital, Craddock takes on the case and delves deep into small-town secrets. We are happy to be hosting Terry, along with Josh Stallings and Scott Franks, on Monday, February 1st, at 7 PM. We are delighted she was able to take some time to talk about the book and the community she’s created.


MysteryPeople Scott: Part of the book deals with mental illness – what did you want to get a across to the reader about that issue?

Terry Shames: I wish I had something profound and astute to say about this, but the fact is that Nonie Blake just showed up, as most of my characters do. I’m conflicted about Nonie. When you understand her motivation, you feel compassion for her, but her decisions manifest in a distorted way. there’s a hint that some of Nonie’s mental disturbance is passed down to her from her predecessors. I don’t believe in the “inheritance” of mental illness, but I do believe that the way a family repeats its mistakes can lead to the same results. I never intend to be didactic in my books. I want to present a scenario and explore all its facets and I hope my readers will put some thought into how and why people behave they do and the consequences of that behavior not just for the immediate friends and family, but for the community.

MPS: The idea of identity also plays a big part. What did you want to explore about that concept?

TS: Anybody who has read my books knows that identity plays a big part in my writing. I’m interested in people’s secret selves, i. e., the things that people believe about themselves that others would not suspect. The ways in which people want others to admire them and how they think they fall short—and how they sometimes misread this. Especially I like to explore how people want to be seen and the lengths they will go to to protect that. And finally, I like to explore how identities are tied up in family, friends ands community. Someone like Nonie Blake can a make a terrible mistake and their identity is forever tied up with that mistake. is that fair? Is it different for members of a small town than it is for people in a city, where they can be anonymous?

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2016 Preview: Back to Back Events!

  • Post by Molly Odintz

As we wait patiently for the wild mood swings of a Texas winter to die down, we’ve got plenty of events coming up to strike a mystery lover’s fancy – no matter the weather outside. Jeff Abbott ushered in our 2016 events this past Tuesday, speaking and signing his latest thriller, The First Order.

Coming up at the end of the month, Reed Farrel Coleman, a long-time favorite, comes to visit with two new books: Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins,  a Jesse Stone novel, and Where It Hurtsthe first in a new series and our Pick of the Month for January. He’ll be here to speak and sign his latest on Saturday, January 30th, at 5 PM.

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MysteryPeople Review: A DEADLY AFFAIR AT BOBTAIL RIDGE by Terry Shames

deadly affair at bobtail ridge
With her Samuel Craddock series, Terry Shames has shown insight into the human and social condition. She understands how the threats and lightness of life coexist and often mingle with one another. Her latest, A Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge, is a wonderful example of this theme.

This story, the fourth of the series, takes place in late spring. Samuel, newly reinstated as chief of police, is getting for the pranks and and wildness that occur during prom night. The Baptists are already up in arms. The worries become minuscule when Samuel’s good friend and neighbor, Jenny Sandstone, tells him her mother is in the hospital. When he makes a hospital visit, her mother tells him that she thinks Jenny may be in danger and to find a man named Howard. She dies before he can get any clearer information. Someone is also trying to fool with Jenny’s horses. It escalates further when she is run off the road. Samuel would like to find out who is behind it, but the person is tied to secrets Jenny refuses to let go of.

“She celebrates surviving in a real and nuanced way, finding quiet triumph in that act alone.”

Shames deftly shades the novel in a spectrum of tones and believable emotions. She follows the politics of the prom week that brings both levity to the book as well as grounding it in a time and place that ties into one of the book’s more somber revelations. Terry uses Samuel perfectly to fuse the light and dark tones of the situation he is in. I mentioned in my review of The Last Death Of Jack Harbin that Samuel is not just an investigator, but a witness. He continues in that capacity as he realizes his town has changed since he last wore a badge and struggles in dealing with that.

A Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge delivers what we like about the Samuel Craddock series and more as Terry Shames nudges it a bit further. Her ability to shift tone in both the personal and social contexts allows her to operate on a plane where the reader lives. She celebrates surviving in a real and nuanced way, finding quiet triumph in that act alone.


You can find copies of A Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Three Picks for April

a deadly affairA Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge by Terry Shames

Chief Of Police Samuel Craddock gets involved with a personal case when his good friend and neighbor, Jenny Sandstone, appears to be in trouble, especially when she’s run off the road. Unfortunately Jenny’s problems involve secrets that she wants to remain that way. Terry Shames looks at society and human sin with a precision that would give Ross MacDonald a run for his money. A Deadly Affair At Bobtail Ridge hits the shelves April 7. Pre-order now.


lady from zagrebThe Lady From Zagreb by Phillip Kerr

The tenth in the superb Bernie Gunther series, has the wartime Berlin investigator forced once again to do a job for Joseph Goebbels (which didn’t work out too well in the first book). This one involves UFA film studios, Balkan fascism, and a beautiful woman (which never works for Bernie). Rich in place and time, with Bernie’s entertaining hard boiled voice, Kerr has created one of the most complex heroes for one of the most complex times ever written about in a detective series.   The Lady From Zagreb hits the shelves April 7. Pre-order now.


bitter creekBitter Creek by Peter Bowen

Montana lawman and champion fiddler player, Gabriel Du Pre is back in his fourteenth adventure. Gabriel helps a wounded vet with his spiritual quest: the veteran wishes to find out what happened to a Metis tribe that disappeared in 1910 when they were chased by General Pershing. As the two seek answers, they come up against folks who will do anything to keep that history buried. A great way to be introduced to one of the best in the west. Bitter Creek hits the shelves April 28. Pre-order now.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames

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Terry Shames‘ latest Samuel Craddock mystery, The Last Death Of Jack Harbin, is rich in theme, character and emotion. Terry was kind enough to talk about these elements of the novel witih us

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How different an experience was writing the second book in the series as opposed to the first?

TERRY SHAMES: I almost feel as if the first two books were one big project. As soon as I finished the A Killing at Cotton Hill, I immediately began The Last Death of Jack Harbin. It took me about eight months total to write both books from the beginning of the first to the polished draft of both. I don’t know how or why it happened so fast, but I was happy to go with it.

So the answer I’m going to give you is about book three. I’m having a tiny little nervous breakdown about it. I have several Craddock books in mind, and thought that the one I’m working on now would be the best to move the series forward. I wrote the first draft quickly, but was dissatisfied with it. Right about the time I was beginning to be nervous about it, my editor said he needed it fast…and that’s when I began to panic.

Suppose this third book was a poor shadow of the first two? Before the first book was published, I never needed to worry about anyone’s opinion but my own. Suddenly, I have readers to satisfy. That’s the best dilemma in the world for a writer—but still a dilemma.

I threw myself on the mercy and competence of my writers group, and they assured me that the changes I need to make are cosmetic – Oh sure, it’s only cosmetic to throw out one entire story line? To ditch a couple of characters? To jettison the first two scenes? But their advice only confirmed what I already knew. I’m still nervous but at least I’m not ready to ditch writing and become a plumber.

MPYour victim is a young disabled vet. What did you want to convey about today’s vets?

TS:Good question about vets. In writing about Jack Harbin’s situation, I hoped to illustrate something that really bothers me these days about how people treat veterans. People are perfectly willing to send young men and women off to fight wars to “keep us safe,” and they are willing to spend trillions of dollars to keep the wars going. But they aren’t willing to spend the money to support these young warriors when they come home damaged physically and/or mentally. I think it’s a disgrace. And the fact that there isn’t a good support system for these young men and women means that they are prey to scams and mistreatment.

MP: Guilt seems to be the big emotion in The Second Death Of Jack Harbin. What did you want to explore about it?

TS: I hadn’t really thought of the book as exploring guilt, but your question made me think about it, and it’s true. Jack’s high school friends, Taylor and Woody, his mother, his friend Walter, and even Samuel himself are haunted by misreading situations in the past and making decisions that they believe were misguided. They believe things could have been different if they had made better decision.

People deal with the guilt in different ways, but everyone is changed by it. For some people it engenders a determination to do better or to make amends, like Woody and Walter. Others are crippled by it, like Jack’s mother. And then there are those who have no capacity to feel guilt. A lack of remorse is at the core of sociopathic behavior. I’m thinking of the dastardly Walter White in the recently concluded Breaking Bad. He feels a whole range of emotions, but guilt is not one of them. Jack’s brother, Curtis, is a little like that, though he doesn’t act it out so dramatically. He could help Jack if he chose to, but it doesn’t occur to him, and he feels no guilt at all about it.

Guilt is a useless emotion unless action follows on its heels. I admire Woody for wanting to find a way to assuage his guilt through action- even if his plan is a sadly impractical…At its most basic use, punishment is a way of letting the guilty atone for their guilt. I wonder if the guilty party in The Last Death of Jack Harbin feels some relief, knowing that there is a way to pay for the crime?

MP: What compels Samuel to always come out of retirement to investigate?

The simple answer is that Samuel feels a sense of responsibility to his community. Because of his reputation, he has always been a fallback when the current chief of police isn’t up to the task. I talked to one of my readers who adored Samuel. She said, “We all need a person who looks out for us.” The larger question is, where does this sense of responsibility come from? In a way, it’s a stance that has a certain amount of hubris—Samuel feels as if he has the strength and ability to make a difference in people’s lives. As I’ve developed Samuel, I’ve noticed similarities between writers and lawmen. Both are observers and in a sense live apart. And both can use their jobs as a way of bringing justice to a situation. The hubris part I’ll leave for others to comment on.

MP: Which supporting character did you have the most fun writing?

TS: It sounds sappy, but I love all my characters—even the killer. Most of my characters are fully developed people in my mind. I know their hopes and dreams, their strengths and shortcomings. So who is most fun to write, the good guys or the not-so-good guys? In this particular book, I have to say I enjoyed writing Walter Dunn. I didn’t have to work to discover his character—he jumped onto the page and told me who he was from the first time he showed up on his motorcycle. I liked him from the beginning and grew to have great respect for him, as I think Samuel does.

MP: As someone who writes about where you used to live, do you have to do anything special to write about Central Texas in Northern California or are your memories that clear?

TS: I read somewhere that James Joyce couldn’t write about Dublin until he moved away. Not that I compare myself to James Joyce, but I think it’s true of some writers that we don’t see a place as clearly until we leave it. I go back to Texas often to visit relatives, so it isn’t as if I’m marooned in California. But what interests me is what happens when I go back to the town that I based Jarrett Creek on. I always have a sense that I’m enveloped by it. I never lived there; my grandparents did. But it always had a hold on my imagination. Now, when I got there, I drive whoever I’m with crazy because all I want to do is walk around. That’s all. I don’t have to go inside anywhere, I don’t have to talk to anyone. I just want to smell the air that seems particular to that place; feel it on my skin; hear the sounds of birds and wind in the trees; see the color of the grass; the architecture of the houses; the composition, smell and look of the soil; the constantly changing color and clouds of the sky.  Here’s the funny part: I could never live there. I hate the climate—it’s muggy and hot much of the year. Nevertheless, I carry a little piece of it with me, and I cherish it.

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Terry Shames will be in store Monday, Jan 27 at 7PM speaking & signing The Last Death of Jack Harbin. Pre-order signed copies of the book via bookpeople.com.