I’ve read a couple of Tracy’s reviews of Bill Crider books at Bitter Tea and Mystery and her latest one prompted me to choose the Dan Rhodes series for the Texas leg of my virtual tour of the USA. I opted to start at the beginning.
My exposure to Texas consists of a couple of hours in Dallas airport and binge-watching Friday Night Lights so I won’t claim any expertise on the subject but TOO LATE TO DIE seemed to me to have a very authentic sense of place. Our guide is Dan Rhodes who is, at least for the next little while, the Sheriff of Blacklin County which is, I think, fictional in name but not in essence. The small towns, getting smaller by the day as jobs dry up, and rural areas that make up Rhodes’ jurisdiction have a realistic sensibility, as do the people Rhodes and his deputies serve. The crimes are…ordinary for want of a better word. No serial killers or the like. Just bad luck and bad judgement for the most part. The first crime we learn about as the book opens is that a small grocery store has been robbed and the store owner looks unlikely to vote for Rhodes unless he can find the culprit pretty quickly. But Rhodes is soon too busy to court that particular vote as the body of a young married woman is found in her home. The investigation into this murder uncovers several people with secrets they’d prefer to keep hidden and places suspicion on a young mentally challenged man. The case unfolds at a slower pace than a big city story might do but this is more to do with the lack of resources afforded the Blacklin County Sheriff’s office than any inherent slowness on Rhodes’ part. Plus even though locals care about what happened to Jeanne Clinton they also expect their law enforcement officers to take care of all the smaller issues affecting their communities so even what meagre resources are available have to be shared.
As with all good crime series the central character has to engage the reader on several levels and Dan Rhodes nails it. A relatively recent widower with an adult daughter living at home and facing an election battle for his job Rhodes is immediately likable due to his sense of humour and his sense of honour. He doesn’t rush to judgement or act on scant evidence, even when this puts him at a disadvantage. I was – as ever – equally fascinated and disturbed by the concept of an elected law enforcement officer (not something that exists in my part of the world) but Rhodes is the kind of guy you’d appoint to such a job if it was filled in the more usual way. The other characters, including a love interest and a couple of wily old blokes acting as near-volunteer labour for the Sheriff’s office, round things out nicely.
The pace of TOO LATE TO DIE does pick up towards the end of the story as a suspect is cornered. This kind of ‘thriller-style’ element is often jarring in a book that has been quite low key up to that point, but Crider does a good job of making this ramping up of tension feel natural. And scary.
Really the only downside to this reading experience is that there are more than 20 books in this series now and I’m unlikely to ever catch up given how much else I have to read. But I definitely plan to re-visit Bill Crider’s version of Texas, even if I have to dip in and out of the series rather than read everything. As with all the best books in this genre the crime element of TOO LATE TO DIE is really only a backdrop for a good writer to tell compelling stories about interesting people. That he does so without gratuitous violence or unnecessary length makes me extra fond of Bill Crider.
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This is the 17th book I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge in which I’m aiming to read a total of 51 books, one set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.
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Publisher This edition Walker & Co 2013, original edition 1986
Length 299 pages
Book Series #1 in the Dan Rhodes series
Source of review copy I bought it