Monday, March 31, 2008

Of All Sad Words – Bill Crider

© 2008 St. Martin’s Minotaur, New York

Readers of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes stories will know that this is the fifteenth feature-length novel starring the laid-back east Texas lawman since he first appeared in the Anthony Award-winning Too Late to Die in 1986. Those same readers will also be glad to note that the good sheriff is alive and well and busting crime in Blacklin County.

The newest in the series has Rhodes investigating the explosion of a mobile home, death of its owner, and related death of a local café owner. Along the way, Rhodes has to deal with possums that aren’t there, flying saucers that are probably not there, the crankiness of a county commissioner, and the exasperating banter of the beloved (?) Hack and Lawton—who are supposed to be his friends.

Terry Crawford is found dead away from the wreck of his mobile home. His brother who was at the Wal-mart to buy groceries seems more intent on suing the propane company (and anyone else he can think of) for wrongful death than he is about the fact that Terry is dead. The investigation turns up not one but two stills and an apparent new market for bootleg whiskey. This brings an appearance of a Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission investigator to the county. As such goings on will do, the vermin shows up to be active in the criminal activity. In this case it takes the form of Rapper and Nellie who have confounded Rhodes on several previous occasions. Each time, Rapper gets permanently wounded (though not fatally) and then gets away. Maybe he’ll stay away from Blacklin County this time. In the words of the sheriff, “Right.”

For entertainment value, Crider throws in the news that the book loosely built around Rhodes and his crime busting career, Blood Fever, is now published and Dan finds himself roped into joining the co-authors at a book signing at the local Wal-mart. One of the new (and hopefully recurring) characters takes time to write a tribute song to Rhodes called “The Ballad of Sheriff Rhodes” and sung to the tune of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.”

This story is written in the typical quick-paced style that Crider’s readers have come to expect in the Rhodes stories (novels and shorts alike). Crider also lets us work the puzzle with the sheriff without revealing his hand too early or broadcasting it too loudly, which is often the temptation when writing genre mysteries. In addition to a rocking cover, readers will encounter the parade of kooks and characters they know inhabit the little east Texas town. Other references will delight readers of mystery stories such as the honorable hat tip to Crider’s friend and successful east Texas writer
Joe Lansdale (of course the reference might be a plug to encourage Joe’s daughter Kasey in her burgeoning singing career). If Crider had been able he would also have linked you to Hard Case Crime when he gives them a nice fat juicy plug. (I’ve done it for you, Bill; lovers of nostalgic pulp crime novels and covers will be delighted.)

Crider is on his game with Of All Sad Words. I’d have to give him 4 reading glasses. For the editors at Minotaur, I’d have to ask whose doing their research. They’ve lumped Dead Soldiers in the list with the Sally Good Mysteries in their listing of the author’s previous works. If they’d read the book they would remember that it was the long-awaited reappearance of Professor Carl Burns. Happy reading, everyone.

—Benjamin Potter, March 31, 2008

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