|Book Three in the series|
I’m always looking for new mystery authors. (New to me, that is. Some of my discoveries have actually been publishing for awhile before I’ve discovered their books.) Last spring, when I attended a panel to listen to four mystery authors talk about their writing, one of the authors was Terry Shames. Since then, I’ve had the good fortune to get hooked on her Samuel Craddock series, based in a fictional small Texas town called Jarrett Creek.
I started with book one, A Killing at Cotton Hill, because I like to see how an author jump starts their series. I liked it so much that next I had to read The Last Death of Jack Harbin. I’ve just finished her third in the series, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek (shown here), and I’m already looking forward to her fourth, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, which comes out next month. But you don’t really have to read them in order to enjoy them. Each story is complete in itself and the author deftly slips in back story and characters' gossip and memories so that you feel like you know these people right away.
The main character, Samuel Craddock, a retired police chief, is a widower who lives on a small acreage at the edge of town, and has a kindly affection for his cows. He grew up in Jarrett Creek, but developed a taste for fine art through his deceased wife. As a result, he has an enviable art collection on his walls, a collection fraught with memory, since he and his wife purchased many of the paintings together.
Craddock is a an affable sleuth, full of homegrown wisdom and sterling character virtues. He can be firm when he needs to be, and while his manner is encouraging and disarming as he makes his enquiries, he doesn’t miss a thing. He often reflects on the other characters' lives, the locals he grew up with. His voice is so authentic, I can almost hear him when I read his narrative (which is in present tense, a tense that works very well in these mysteries).
The cluster of characters Samuel deals with are also three dimensional, with voices of their own, each one a memorable personality. To name a few: Loretta, Craddock’s neighbor and friend who brings him baked goods and gossip almost daily (and tries to pry out of him facts about the current case). Jenny, a lawyer and a good friend with whom Craddock dines out occasionally -- solely for companionship, as he is still grieving his wife.
And, of course, the current police chief, Rodell Skinner: self-important, lazy, spending more time at the bar than the police station. Because of Skinner’s alcohol problems, the townspeople have more confidence in Craddock than in him. Consequently, Samuel is the one they turn to when something goes wrong. In Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, Skinner’s drying out, so once again Craddock has to solve the case.
The series is set in Jarrett Creek, a marvelously drawn small town with just the beginnings of suburbs. A few farms outside the town. A main street with family businesses. The local high school. The town hall. The café in town, called, appropriately, Town Café. The bank. The various churches. The town jail. I leave these books feeling I know this place. It feels familiar, as if I’ve been there personally, even though the place is a pure work of fiction.
Best of all, these plots are true puzzle mysteries, and Shames weaves the threads of clues back and forth with expertise. As Craddock ruminates on facts he unearths while interviewing people connected to the case, each person becomes a believable suspect until the very end. And the ending is always satisfying, evoking that combined response: “Huh? Oh. Of Course!”
I’ve posted the book cover of Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, but you can find all of her books on Amazon HERE
Her Website is http://www.terryshames.com . If you hurry over and subscribe to her newsletter before Apri1 1, you have a chance to win a copy of A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge.
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