Bill Crider Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen
When Ed Gorman asked me if I’d do a post about my latest book, naturally I said “yes.” After all, he promised me fame, fortune, and groupies. He also said that if I didn’t do it, he was going to send around a couple of guys with baseball bats. And not to play a quick game of pepper. So how could I refuse?
The Sheriff Dan Rhodes series started back in 1985 when Ruth Cavin visited the Houston MWA chapter and said she’d like to take a look at the manuscript. I was thrilled when she accepted the book, and I never dreamed that I’d be sitting here 27 years later writing about yet another book in the series. The first book, Too Late to Die, won the Anthony for best first novel, but even at that, I would never have thought I’d have a run like this.
There are a couple of things that people ask me about the series, and I’ll try to answer them here, just for fun. One is about the well-known “Cabot Cove Syndrome.” The setting of the books is a small Texas county with no major cities and no big towns. Yet people keep getting murdered there. Over the years, Sheriff Dan Rhodes has handled more murder cases than sheriffs in ten or twenty small counties. This seems to bother some readers. I can’t figure out why. Nobody seems to mind that Jack Reacher stumbles into big-time crime on the first page of every novel he’s in. I suppose it bothered people a bit that every woman Tavis McGee got involved with wound up dead, but it didn’t keep women from getting involved with him. I talked to an editor about things like this once upon a time, and he said, “It’s all a fantasy, Bill.” He was right. The world of the books reflects the real world in a lot of ways, but not necessarily in the mortality rate. The alarming number of deaths in Blacklin County doesn’t alarm me at all.
Another thing people want to know about is why I chose not to age my characters in real time. That’s something I didn’t really give much thought to. Some of my favorite protagonists are people who don’t age. Nero Wolfe and Archie, Spenser, Mike Hammer, Miss Marple, James Bond, Modesty Blaise, and on and on. They’re ageless, and that’s the way I thought it should be. Some characters do age, and that’s fine, too. Bill Pronzini’s done a great job of aging his nameless detective, for example, but Sheriff Rhodes is so far immune to age.
My characters didn’t change much, either, and they weren’t horribly scarred by episodes of death and torture. I greatly admire writers like Ken Bruen, who’s put Jack Taylor through so much hell on earth that Hell for eternity will seem like a picnic to him. But most of my books are a bit sunnier than that, although if you look beneath the surface, there might be a bit of darkness lurking. All those dead people, you know.
Anyway, to bring Nero Wolfe into it again, when I read a Nero Wolfe book, I want Wolfe to visit the orchids. I want him to wear the yellow pyjamas, to count beer bottle caps, to have Fritz prepare a great meal. I want Archie to go dancing with Lily Rowan and have her call him Escamillo. I like the familiar things those books and in other series, and I like them in mine, too.
I’m exaggerating a little, of course. Sheriff Rhodes has changed and aged, but only a little. The clues are there if you look for them. The familiar things in my books are used in different ways, too, but nothing changes radically. There’s a good reason for that, but I’ve gone on too long already.
Some of you eagle-eyed readers will have noticed by now that this post isn’t really about my new book. This means that to find out about it, you’ll have to buy it and read it. What a great idea! It’s MURDER OF A BEAUTY SHOP QUEEN, and it comes out in August. Be the first on your block to own one.