New Books: Murder of A Beauty Shop Queen by Bill Crider
As much as I'm a child of books, movies and comic books, I am also a child of radio. Growing up I probably heard several hundred hours of radio shows of all types from adventure to suspense to western to comedy to even a few soap opera (when my Mom had them on).
Most of the shows had one thing in common. They created worlds for me to inhabit with my imagination. I loved living in those worlds. Sergeant Preston of The Mounties, The Shadow, Superman and the comedies. They were y favorites. The Great Gildersleeve, Fibber McGee and Molly and best of all Jack Benny--I loved being in Benny's household with all his goofy friends, listening to him lose all most if not all of his duel of wits with Rochester, trying to understand the scatterbrain dialogue of Dennis Day--and going down to the vault in the basement. I loved the sound effects. The vault seemed to be a mile deep. I painted it with cobwebs and treacherous, lapping water with the stone steps clinging to the wall. And I couldn't wait to hear the vault itself screeching open.
I mention all this by saying that when I read a certain kind of mystery I want it to give me a world I can inhabit the same way--only this time the author does all the heavy lifting. He or she paints all the pictures for me.
Clearview, Texas is one of my favorite worlds to visit because Bill Crider and his Sheriff Rhodes make it so much fun while giving it real depth by quietly noting, generally with amused compassion, some of the foibles being human entails.
In Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen Rhodes--while simultaneously dealing with a goat who is in a bad mood and a thief who can't be accused of great aspirations--tries to unravel the murder of a fetching young thing whose day job was working at The Beauty Shack but whose night time job appeared to be getting to know an impressive number of men.
In addition to his skills with characterization and milieu, Crider is a master plotter of fair clue mysteries. I say this with abiding envy. One of the many reasons I enjoy and admire his work so much is that I always pick up a few pointers when I read his books and stories..
A final point. He show Yankees a Texas we rarely see or hear or read about. An average small town with average small town people. Decent, hard working people with all the mixed good and bad most of us have, making their way through lives that few outside their circle of friends and coworkers pay much attention to. Crider makes them interesting and entertaining and memorable. No small feat. And he does it with skill and grace.