These Mortal Remains by Milton T. Burton sees East Texas sheriff Bo Handal square off against a group of white supremacists (available July 16, 2013).
Nazi-wannabes, drug-running, robbery, the shooting of a beloved deputy, assassination, and old-fashioned revenge. Sheriff Bo Handal has his hands full in East Texas. Reminiscent of Craig Johnson’s famous Sheriff, but with a now happier home life, even his colleagues can’t help but draw the comparison.
“One thing that concerns me is the back of the property,” Winthrop said. “The front and sides are bounded by roads, and that’s easy enough to cover. But the rear backs up against a pretty dense stand of woods. If some of these bozos were to get back there we could lose them.”
“That’s no problem,” I said
“How so?” he asked.
“Shit!” Chambless exclaimed. “What are you trying to do? Play Walt Longmire?”
Sheriff Bo Handel might not be Longmire, but he has a lot of the same concerns. He has to balance budgets and law enforcement and voter approval, as he explains to a potential new hire.
I nodded. “Good girl. Secondly, we are peace officers, and I take the ‘peace’ part of that very seriously. Sure we solve crimes, but a good portion of our job is mediating between what I call ‘competing viewpoints’ so that people can live out their lives with a minimum of fuss and bother. Which means we generally try diplomacy first. And that brings me to point three. We occasionally have to arrest some of my strongest supporters. On top of that, most of the people we will be dealing with are voters . . .” I let my voice taper off to see what she would say.
“All the tact that the situation will accommodate.”
“That’s what I’m asking for,” I said. “The badge- heavy old beat cop act won’t work on this force.”
“I’m not like that, anyway. But I promise you I can take care of business when I have to.”
And while Bo may be a bit of a good ol’ boy, one thing’s for sure: After thirty years on the job, he knows his local residents.
Just then Big Earl Chalmers appeared in the doorway. “They said you wanted to see me,” he said.
“Yeah, I did. You’re under arrest for that little fracas this morning at the Roundup Club. Are you sober?”
“I never was drunk. I just had two beers and that was hours ago.”
“Good. Get your ass out to the jail to get processed. I’ll call out there and tell ’em you’re coming.”
“What about my car? I don’t want to pay no impound fee.”
“I’ll tell them to let you park it for free. You want me to call Walter Durbin for you? You’re gonna need him on this one.”
“Yeah, thanks, Bo,” he said. “See you later.”
Winthrop stared at me in disbelief. “You arrested him by messenger? You just sent word and he came in? And now you expect him to go out and check into the jail on his own?”
“Sure. I do that with a lot of the locals. It saves time and money.”
This time he’s not so much in over his head and stumped, frustratingly so. What started with a straightforward robbery in a coffee shop, leads to the death of a local man with an extra helping of gumption. A murder that looks to go unsolved, as a matter of fact. Something not setting well with Sheriff Bo.
“You have an unsolved murder on your books, I believe.”
I grimaced. “Actually, I have two. The last one was just a few weeks ago.”
“Do you have many murders in your district?”
“My county. We call our state administrative units ‘counties,’ and killings have averaged one a year for the nearly thirty years I’ve been sheriff. Most of them have been passion murders.”
“By which you mean?”
“Rage killings. Spur of the moment things. Friday night tavern fights that get out of hand. Or some fellow who comes home and catches his wife in bed with another man and then shoots both of them. Or a woman who finds a husband in a similar position.”
He nodded. “That is what I thought. Those account for most of the killings in my country as well. However, I was referring to an obvious premeditated murder that took place two years ago. A man named Aaron Webern. Do you remember him?”
“Of course I do,” I said, the hackles on the back of my neck rising because I recalled something I should have thought of when Dual Driggers died. Like Dual, Webern had been strangled to death, but in his case the murder weapon had been a leather strap.
His deputy getting shot? Well, that, no matter what anyone says, he aims to get to the bottom of.
Gritting my teeth, I picked up the phone to hear an eager, brisk voice say, “Sheriff Handel, I’m Mike MacAffee with the governor’s office and—”
“My secretary already told me that. What do you want?”
“Oh, well . . . Yes, as a matter of fact the reason I was calling is that the governor would like to feel that everything possible is being done to bring Deputy Parsons’s assailant to justice.”
“Then tell him to go ahead and feel that way. I’m not stopping him.”
“Uh . . . Did you happen to see the early afternoon spot CNN did on Sequoya and the situation up there?”
“No, I didn’t see it. We generally work in the afternoons. And we don’t have a situation here.”
“Reverend Dawkins was featured and—”
“Reverend Dawkins is a horse’s ass. Why would the governor care what he has to say?”
“Sheriff, you’re not being reasonable. The governor wants—”
“The governor wants to cover his butt with the public, and particularly with the state’s black population. I can sympathize with his problem, but it’s not my problem. So here’s what you can tell the governor. Tobias Parsons is the best chief deputy I’ve ever had. He is also a personal friend of mine, and so are his father and his sister. His dad is a prominent local minister who’s been one of my strongest supporters since I first ran for office almost thirty years ago. I just had lunch with his sister. She’s office manager and paralegal for my closest friend. In light of all that, can you think of any reason I wouldn’t be doing my dead-level best to find out who shot him?”
All in all, Bo’s a down-to-earth guy who aims to get at the bottom of every crime that happens in Caddo County and he’d be happy to join him for the ride. Just be careful. The voice is so strong in this book, you’ll wind up talking like an old Texas Sheriff.
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Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).
Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.