Top 5 Texas Crime Novels

This year Texas crime fiction had two distinctive elements. One was a deeper look at race relations in our state that serve as a microcosm for our country. the other was the return or the heroic Texas Ranger. Both helped create books that were socially aware, were packed with fun action, or both. Here were what I thought were the five finest.

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

This book fuses the western with crime fiction with a black Texas Ranger trying to solve a murder involving white supremacists to look at the politics involved in race and and culture. A great entertaining genre read as well as insightful social study.

 

 

Rusty Puppy by Joe Lansdale

Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard take a case involving an African American’s murder that puts them up against a corrupt police force in a nearby town and an illegal fight game in an abandoned saw mill. One of Lansdale’s best plotted with all the fun we’ve come to expect from the man.

An Unsettling Case For Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames

Shames takes us back to Samuel Craddock’s first case as  police chief involving an arson and murder that picks at the town’s racial tensions. Shames further proves her talent at delving into the society of a small town and delivering an engaging whodunit.

 

 

Hawke’s Prey by Reavis Wortham

If Larry McMurtry wrote Die Hard. The citizens of a small south Texas town are held hostage in the local court house by a cadre of terrorists. Ranger Sonny Hawke and a rag-tag crew of citizens outside are ready to teach the bad guys a lesson in “Don’t Mess With Texas.”

Sierra Blanca by Don M. Patterson

A washed up CIA agent teams up with a ranger in the eighties to take down a soviet plot  involving a drug cartel and stolen plutonium. Full of gun fights, frayed machismo, and the right amount of self awareness, this rollicking action story keeps moving until the final period.

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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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Book Review: 1960s Austin Gangsters


1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked the Capital by Jesse Sublett     (Event 3/23/15)

Austin prides itself on individuality. We are both counter-culture and cowboy, known for our own takes on music and food. As Jesse Sublett shows in 1960s Austin Gangsters, even our criminals keep it weird. Sublett chronicles the Overton Gang. They were formed around high school football star Tim Overton, who held a grudge against UT coach Darrell Royal for stopping his chances at being a Longhorn. With fellow football player “Fat Jerry” Ray James, he lead a gang of travelling criminals who burglarized banks and muscled in on vice operations all around Texas, using the new highway system to their advantage, with the Capitol as their base of operations. They were bad men in Elvis haircuts and shark fin Caddies, committing felonies at a rock n’ roll pace.

When it came to Austin history, they were like gangster Forrest Gumps. They hung out at the same club the 13th Floor Elevators played and brushed up against the burgeoning counter-culture. There is even a tense, armed stand-off between Overton and future U.T. tower sniper Charles Whitman.

Sublett uses tons of interviews with the survivors and offspring on both sides of the law. He doesn’t romanticize the gang and doesn’t shy away from describing their brutality, particularly toward their women. However, he does include how some of their victims recall their charming side. He also shows how the methods of overzealous law enforcement almost brought the town back to its wild west roots. Much of the story is told in colorful anecdotes, such as the one about the interaction between a local madam and Overton a few weeks after he robbed and beat her.

1960s Austin Gangsters is a rough, fun ride through Austin’s underbelly during a period of change. Sublett gives us a real world of east side toughs, crooked car dealers, dice men, dogged lawmen, chicken shack patrons, part-time hookers, and elderly brothel matrons.

Yep, even when it came to crime, Austin isn’t what it was.

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Copies of 1960s Austin Gangsters are available on our shelves now and via bookpeople.com

Jesse Sublett speaks about and signs his new book here at BookPeople Monday, March 23 at 7pm.

Crime Fiction Friday: PERKO’S FARM by Rob Brunet

crime-scene
CRIME FICTION FRIDAY

We have the honor of hosting Rob Brunet with Terry Shames this Monday, November 10th. His novel Filthy Rich is getting great buzz as one of the best debuts of the year, combining crime and comedy brilliantly. In this story, originally a part of the anthology Down, Out, & Dead, serves as a prequel to Filthy Rich.

PERKO’S FARM

By Rob Brunet

Perko Ratwick needed a change in plans like he needed hemorrhoids. He rocked his Harley onto its kickstand and walked to the water’s edge where a man stood fishing.

“Biting today?” he asked.

The man grunted and looked at the white bucket beside him. Perko peeked in and saw what had to be half a dozen scaly creatures, gills flapping on the top ones.

“These good eating?” Making conversation when he’d much rather knee-cap the fisherman. Four months of planning, a twenty-thousand-dollar down payment so this bugger could set up a suburban grow op, and now he calls to say the deal’s off? No explanation?

“Free food.” The man finished reeling in his line, shook a clump of weeds from its green and yellow lure, and cast again.

Perko didn’t get it. Nghiem had to be worth a couple million, maybe more. He’d arrived from Vietnam a decade ago and was running at least six grow houses in the suburbs north of Toronto, one of which was supposed to supply Perko. Surely he could afford dinner. “We coulda met in a restaurant,” said the biker. “I’d a picked up the tab.”

Nghiem said, “Sense of obligation. No need.”

“So what’s the deal? Your message said something changed.”

“No deal.”

“Then what?”

“I said no deal. Go find new grower.”

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Guest Post: Rob Brunet

stinking rich rob brunet

Guest Post by Rob Brunet, author of Stinking Rich

Growing Up On a Beach Outside Ottawa

I often get asked about the characters I write about. Where do they come from? Do I know people like that? Often I point to the time I’ve spent in the country as if the whackos populating my stories are somehow representative of the people I know there. If you’ve read what I write, you’ll know that’s unlikely. I’m not sure that makes the reference a cop-out. It’s just incomplete.

Not unlike the tropes that drive country music, characters like Perko Ratwick or Terry Miner are painted a tad vibrant on purpose. If I’ve done my work right, they’ll engage my readers’ emotion, yet remain off-kilter enough to amuse.

Part of them is anchored in my experience down dirt roads stretching right back to my formative years on a beach upriver from Ottawa. In a lot of ways, I grew up on that beach. My city-kid lens skewed much of what I saw, but by the time I was a teenager, the barriers between the cottage kids and the locals broke down. There’s nothing like sitting on a log around a bonfire drinking underage beer to make everyone equal.

Until then, I’d naively seen the local kids—those who lived in cottage country year-round—as the lucky ones. I was oblivious to the boredom afflicting life at the end of the school bus run. Once summer ended and the population thinned to next-to-no-one, these guys had little to do. Breaking-and-entering to them was as common as road hockey to my pals in the city: a little wintry fun on a Saturday afternoon.

Between that and minor illicit behaviour sprinkled with occasional violence, more than a few of them experienced youthful run-ins with the local constabulary. In fact, if a guy hadn’t been sent to the detention centre at least once by the time he turned fifteen, his friends thought him “slow”.

I’m not suggesting petty criminality was universal, but its prevalence was higher than what you’d find in the city. And no one considered it a big deal.

I remember sitting round the fire one summer catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen since the previous fall. He asked me whether it was true my father had bought the cottage next to ours—a real fixer-upper my dad purchased as a defensive move when he’d learned the prospective new owner intended to park construction equipment on the property.

I told my friend my friend, yes, that cottage was now ours, and waited for the jab about how us city slickers were always buying things up and lording it over the locals. Instead, my pal hung his head just a little and apologized, telling me they’d never have broken into it that past winter if they’d known it was ours.

Later, my father told me he’d noticed a few things moved around. More than a squirrel might do. And he shrugged at the idea a few of the local boys had busted in. “There was nothing worth stealing in there anyway,” he said. And nothing more needed be done about it.

Another summer, I had a girlfriend up there. Well, for a week or so anyway. Her other boyfriend had gone off on vacation with his wife or something. He left this girl with a case of beer and the keys to a car. She was fifteen. I know my mother was happy that one didn’t last. Come to think of it, so am I.

Country had a way of aging people different from the city. More than once, I was surprised to learn someone was two or three years older than their apparent learning or behaviour would suggest. On the other hand, a lot of them had full-time jobs and something passing for real responsibility before they’d reach the end of high school.

I’m sure I could have found parallel worlds in the city and the reality is, I sometimes did. But something about the directness of life in the country stuck with me. It resonated in positive ways, and now finds its way into my writing. The characters in Stinking Rich may seem a little warped from an urban standpoint, but I trust their connection to their setting rings true.


Copies of Rob Brunet’s book Stinking Rich are on our shelves now. He will be in-store speaking and signing Monday, November 10 at 7PM. Pre-order your signed copy via bookpeople.com!

MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames

Were happy to host Terry Shames on Monday, November 10th at 7PM, along with Stinking Rich author, Rob Brunet. Her latest, Dead Broke In Jarret Creek, pulls her hero Samuel Craddock, back into his job as Chief Of Police when his town goes bankruptcy. It also looks like a murder is tied to the bankruptcy. We caught up with Terry to talk about the new novel.


MysteryPeople: Had you planned to bring Samuel back as chief?

Terry Shames: Not at all. When I started thinking through all the ramifications of a town going bankrupt, I realized it was perfect for Samuel to step in. He doesn’t need the money, and he has the experience of being a chief of police, so what better solution?

MP: What do you think makes him take the job?

TS: In my mind, he never hesitated to say yes. The easy answer to your question is that he knows that taking the job provides a quick solution to a daunting problem. He feels a sense of responsibility for “his” town. But digging deeper, there’s more to it. After Samuel’s wife died, he was at loose ends. As Jenny Sandstone said in A Killing at Cotton Hill, the book that introduced Samuel, he’s too vigorous a person to be satisfied with tending his cows all day. It’s important that he have a mission that engages him physically and mentally. He knows he’s good a keeping the peace and at figuring at solutions to criminal problems that arise in the town.

MP: Much of the plot of Dead Broke In Jarrett Creek revolves around the town’s bankruptcy, Is this occurrence more common than we know in small towns?

TS: During the economic downturn that happened in the early 2000s, several towns, large and small, went bankrupt across the country. I don’t really know how many. But when I read about them, what struck me is that many of the economic problems of the towns seemed to stem from mismanagement. I thought it would be an interesting problem to write about, since it meant not having enough money for basic services, like police.

MP: This book seems to have more humor. Were you looking for more levity after telling a somber story like The Last Death Of Jack Harbin?

TS: It wasn’t intentional, but you’re right, it’s a lighter book. I actually think there was a fair amount of humor in Jack Harbin, but it is definitely darker. In Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek I enjoyed the humor and the little twists and turns of the plot. I just turned in the fourth book in the series to my editor, entitled A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, and it is very dark. So it looks like maybe I’m into a rhythm of alternating between writing a light book and a dark one.

MP: I really like Bill Odum, the part time lawman who helps out Samuel. What does he provide our hero other than back up?

TS: He’s a fresh, young face of law enforcement. He provides an opportunity for Samuel to teach someone what he knows about the town and the difficulties of murder investigation. At the same time, Odum knows some new tricks that Samuel doesn’t know. I also like Zeke Dibble. He’s more jaded than Samuel, but he’s willing to put in his time.

MP: The Samuel Craddock books have such an authentic Texas feel. What do you want to get across about your home state?

TS: It’s the characters I’m interested in.The setting I use is Texas because I know it deeply—I know the terrain, the sights and smells and the people—the way they behave and talk and live. Honestly, I think the people I write about could live anywhere. They are “just” people. Here is one of my favorite review quotes—this from the Dallas Morning News:

“Many writers dive straight into coarse comedy when they create stories set in rural Texas. Their 21st-century cowboys race about in gun-laden pickups. They drink and brawl in bad-news bars and feast at chicken-fried restaurants where waitresses plop down world-weary wisdom with each side order of cream gravy.

Terry Shames avoids these exaggerations in her new Samuel Craddock mystery series. It is said frequently in small-town Texas that everybody knows everybody. Yet the vaunted simple life in rural communities sometimes is rife with family feuds and complicated loyalties…In the Samuel Craddock mysteries, (Terry Shames’s) portrayals of Texas people, places, things, customs and speech are believable, carefully balanced and, best of all, entertaining.”


Copies of Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek are now available on our shelves. Terry Shames will be at BookPeople with Rob Brunet on Monday, November 10 at 7PM. Pre-order your signed copy today!

 

3 Picks for November

For November, we have three paperbacks for fun and affordable reading as the cooler weather settles in.

jack carter and the mafia pigeonJack Carter & The Mafia Pigeon by Ted Lewis

Now, the Jack Carter trilogy is fully restored by Syndicate Books with this novel appearing for the first time in the States. This time, the London mob enforcer is tricked by his employers into being the bodyguard for an American Mafia boss at a Spanish villa. Throw in two beautiful women, one the wife of Carter’s boss who he’s seeing on the sly, and expect a lot of scheming and shooting under the sun.

 


 

easy deathEasy Death by Daniel Boyd

A holiday tale for the hard boiled set. In 1951, two World War Two vets are sent out into a December blizzard by a small town crime boss to rob an armored car. The money, mishaps, and presence of a female park ranger make for a great retro crime novel. Boyd, a Ohio police officer, knows his cops and criminals.

 

 


best american2014 Best American Mystery Stories edited by Otto Penzler and Laura Lippman

One of the best from this annual edition. One feels the presence of guest co-editor Laura Lippman’s sensibility in this great range of contemporary crime fiction that leans toward the character driven. There are stories by MysteryPeople favorites like Megan Abbott and Dennis Tafoya, as well as work by general fiction authors Annie Proulx and Russell Banks. Austin author, Ed Kurtz, has a story as well. A great stocking stuffer.