Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen is the 19th book in the Dan Rhodes detective mystery series by Bill Crider (available August 21, 2012).
Nearly two decades ago, the first book in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series by Bill Crider, Too Late To Die, won the Anthony Award for best first novel. Now in the 19th book of the series, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen, Sheriff Dan is back. (Read an excerpt of the previous book in the series, The Wild Hog Murders.) Once again readers can enjoy his quirky brand of crime solving, always sprinkled with wry humor, while he methodically dredges up clues. Not for the first time Dan Rhodes pulled me along the dusty, and sometimes, dilapidated streets of Clearview in Blacklin County, Texas.
The owner of The Beauty Shack, Sandra Wiley, opens the shop one morning, and finds one of her employees, a young, pretty hair stylist named Lynn Ashton, lying dead on the floor. I must admit that when Rhodes arrived on the scene, I was more startled by the fact that the witness called the sheriff, “Danny” than I’d been by the victim’s murder. The reason, we find out immediately, is that absolute fact of small town life—everybody knows everybody.
“I found her just like that, Danny,” said the woman who’d been sitting in the chair. She was Sandra Wiley, the owner of the shop. “I saw her soon’s I opened the door. Scared me half to death. I called you soon’s I got hold of myself. I got that dispatcher of yours instead, though.”
Rhodes shook himself and took a deep breath. Sandra was his own age, almost exactly. He knew that because they’d been in the same class in school, when her last name had been Rankin, and, thanks to the fondness that many of the teachers had for alphabetical order, they’d sat next to each other in homeroom and classes for twelve years. Only people who’d known Rhodes in those long-gone days called him Danny.
Dan sends for reinforcements to help process the crime scene and take a look around the neighborhood. Soon enough Deputy Ruth comes along, followed eventually by Deputy Buddy.
Leaving Ruth to process the scene, Rhodes and Buddy cross the street to see if anyone is squatting in some long-empty buildings. They split up to make the search go more quickly and as Rhodes enters a vacant building all alone, he reminds himself this kind of chancy work “was why they paid him the mediocre bucks.” It is this self deprecating humor that helps carry the sheriff and the reader through day after puzzling day.
A few years earlier a couple of women, Claudia and Jan, had been in Blacklin County attending a writing workshop. They wanted to write nonfiction, but there’d been a murder at the workshop, and they’d met Rhodes. They immediately decided that their chance at becoming published lay not in writing the truth but in writing about a sheriff like him.
Well, not exactly like him. Their character’s name was Sage Barton. Barton, who’d trained as a Navy SEAL, had retired and gone into law enforcement in a small Texas county, the typical kind that was infested with serial killers, terrorists, and others of that ilk. Barton fought them all with a pair of pearl-handled Colt Peacemakers that were a far cry from the pistol Rhodes carried, which Rhodes was pretty sure Sage Barton would think of as a sissy gun.
As different as Rhodes and Barton were, however, there were some people who insisted on thinking that the two were one and the same or at least that they were very similar.
It does make Sheriff Dan’s job a tad more difficult when some folks insist on pretending that he and Sage Barton are one and the same. In fact, the county dispatcher and the county jailer both chortle about the similarities at any given opportunity. Still, without Barton’s big guns and near super powers, Rhodes has to juggle solving the murder with whatever other crime comes along—including a theft or two, and the usual animal husbandry problems a rural sheriff might have to address. (Hint: this time it’s a goat, not some old wild hogs.) Far too soon, the story ends. I close the book with a sigh, realizing that, once again, Sheriff Dan and I have had a crackling good time.
Bill Crider is an inexhaustible writer who consistently provides top-notch entertainment to readers of mysteries, westerns, horror, and young adult books. As a reader I consume short stories by the bushel, so I can’t forget to mention the dozens of genre shorts that Crider has written. He also has some spiffy western posts archived here at Criminal Element.
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Terrie Farley Moran’s recent collection of short stories, THE AWARENESS and other deadly tales, is currently available in e-format for the Nook and the Kindle. Terrie blogs at Women of Mystery and you can look forward to her short story “Jake Says Hello” in the December 2012 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
Read all posts by Terrie Farley Moran for Criminal Element.