Posted: 12 Jul 2015 07:00 AM PDT
By Ben Boulden:
Compound Murder is the twentieth novel featuring
Blacklin County, Texas Sheriff Dan Rhodes. The
series started in 1986 with Too Late to Die, and
the latest title (number 22 in the series),
Between the Living and Dead, is scheduled for release
in August. Blacklin County’s population is small,
but the characters and crimes are anything but.
It opens with a burglary at the Beauty Shack.
The thief broke the restroom window, and stole
the Shack’s latest inventory items—
“…hair extensions and wigs. Made from
real human hair,” which have an impressive
treet value. Sheriff Rhodes’ report and scene
investigation are interrupted by another call.
A corpse is in the parking lot of the community college.
When Rhodes arrives the scene is being handled by
Dr. C. P. Benton; “Seepy” to everyone who knows him.
Dr. Benton isn’t a deputy, but he thinks he is, and he
is pretty sure the dead man was murdered—
“You’re sure it’s a crime scene?”
“That would be my professional judgment as
a graduate of the Citizens’ Sheriff’s Academy.”
As it turns out Seepy is right, and Rhodes quickly
identifies a handful of suspects. The victim was an
English professor, and not well liked. The primary
suspect is a student named Ike Terrell. Ike is a suspicious
character simply by relation. His father is Able Terrell
who is the leader of the county’s local survivalist group.
He has a compound, guns, and rumors of more guns.
The investigation is far from clear, and the plot is littered
Compound Murder is smooth, humorous, and criminal.
It is a rural police procedural; mostly whodunit with a
shimmer of hardboiled. The humor is secondary to the
well-crafted mystery, and acts as a foil to the seriousness
of the crime. It is developed in the eclectic oddball
characters—the Abbot and Costello act of the police
dispatcher and jailer, and Rhodes’ straight man-like
reaction to it—and the dialogue, which hums with
misunderstanding. The stolen hair is a hot topic,
and provides a few well-placed laughs—
“‘That’s not a head,’ Rhodes said. ‘It’s a wig stand.
With hair on it. Real human hair, too, I’ll bet.’
“‘He scalped his victim?’
“Buddy’s voice trembled. Rhodes didn’t know
f the cause was excitement or disgust.
“‘No,’ Rhodes said. ‘His victim was Lonnie Wallace.’
“‘It was Lonnie Wallace’s body at the college?’
“Rhodes wondered why all his conversations
seemed to go this way. Maybe it was somehow
his own fault.”
Mr. Crider nicely develops the setting—the decaying
main streets of Blacklin County ’s small towns;
the heat; the country ’ s expanse. The places,
and many of the characters, flow from novel to
novel developing a strong sense of place in each,
and the series a whole. There are also a few insider
jokes: Joe Lansdale’s name shows up twice. Once
as a karate instructor, and again as a novelist.