Friday, March 30, 2012

Death Splits a Hair – Nancy Bell

©2006 Worldwide, New York (Originally published © 2005 St. Martin’s Press, New York)

I first started reading Nancy Bell’s mystery stories since the first “Biggie” tale hit the streets. What fascinated me at the time was that the stories were authentically set in East Texas. Since that’s where I was born and where I have a johnboat-full of memories. I’ve been away from Bell’s writing for awhile, but found a paperback copy of the second Judge Jackson Crain novels at a book fair.

Crain’s high school buddy and the town barber Joe Junior McBride winds up dead on his couch. All the evidence points to his son Three (that’s Joe the Third to the unTexan of us), and Three is making himself scarce. To add insult to injury, Joe Junior’s widow (Three’s step-mother) in the midst of her shock-induced breakdown, must now face the disappearance of her own daughter (best friend of Jackson’s 14-year-old daughter) and then her brother-in-law (Junior’s adoptive brother) band director Gerald gets stabbed in the back.

Along with the mystery of multiple family murders, the small-town atmosphere makes this a winner of a read. You’ll be introduced to a variety of East Texas traditions (including Lutie Faye’s (that’s Jackson’s house keeper and cook) succulent cuisine and a Foam Party. Bell keeps things lively with the on-again, off-again romance between the judge and newcomer to Post Oak Mandy d’Alejandro and the coarse but nosy language of Crain’s receptionist Edna.

I liked this little trip to Post Oak, Texas, and think that you will too. I give it four out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, March 30, 2012

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