An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames is the 6th book in the Samuel Craddock Mystery series.
For first time readers of Terry Shames’s Samuel Craddock series, of which I’m one, An Unsettling Crime For Samuel Craddock seems an optimal time to jump on board. Described as a prequel, we join Craddock in the 1980s as the newly appointed Chief of Police of tiny Jarrett Creek, Texas: population 3,000. He’s tested by fire—literally and figuratively—in his first year with the murders of five young people on the outskirts of town.
As soon as I opened the door the smell hits me. The smell of burning creosote is strongest, but there’s another smell underneath that turns my stomach. Burned flesh. Somebody didn’t make it out alive.
Besides the house being torched, some of the deceased had also been shot to death prior. On the scene is John Sutherland, a racist state patrolman who belittles Craddock’s youth and inexperience and attempts to assert his authority at every turn. Craddock stands his ground, pointing out that it happened in the city limits and is part of his dominion, though, he later admits, it has nothing to do with his office. He reaches out to Albert Lamond, the self-appointed leader of the black community who is understandably leery of working with law enforcement. Also on the scene are the far more welcoming Texas Rangers, who offer their assistance in any way possible—a mini life raft, of sorts, for a man who is in way over his head and bemoaning the fact a little too late that this job will be a mite more involved than locking up the occasional drunk.
Balancing out the horrific scene that very day, he and his wife Jeanne have a delivery of several Hereford cows, though he’s quick to say he has just bought some cows and is not going into the cattle business. Helping to manage his new purchases, he has hired a young man named Truly Bennett, who lives relatively close to where the murders have taken place. The first day on the job, while helping to unload the cows, Truly seems removed and distant. Later, it comes as a shock when Sutherland arrests Truly for the murders.
Resolute to solve the case, we follow Craddock on his first autopsy.
I am thankful that someone has already performed the awful chore of pulling apart the twisted mangle of bodies that I glimpsed in the hallway of the burned house. I can tell that this victim is a young female, and that the reason she loomed so large under the sheet is that the arms and legs are charred into place. From my limited knowledge of what happens to bodies after death, rigor should have relaxed by now and the bodies should be limp. I assume that the fire welded the bones into this grotesque position.
Samuel Craddock—a still-budding protagonist, warts and all—is refreshing. I like seeing lawmen who are far from Joe Friday perfect, and Craddock, in these early strokes, is as green as all get out, and yet a man with a very strong head on his shoulders. He may think he’s stepped in the deep end of the pool, but the audience knows he will rise to the occasion—just how many mistakes will he make before the ending is where part of the enjoyment rests in origin stories.
Adding to the multifaceted narrative, Craddock is surrounded by complex human characters like Jeanne, who didn’t want him to take the job to begin with and harbors some unfortunate stereotypical attitudes. Craddock’s mother is a gossipy “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of miserable creature. And his flirtatious sister-in-law gets beaten up, though she remains vague as to who accosted her.
There are many small town, modern lawman stories out there—too many, in fact—but Samuel Craddock earns his place for realistic characterizations and steady plotting.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.