This week, I enjoyed two criminal experiences from Texas. One featured West Texas, the other East Texas. One was cheery -- or at least good-hearted -- and the other was uber-bleak. I'll start in East Texas with Bill Crider's Too Late to Die, which won the Anthony in 1987 for best first novel. Bill Crider wrote some kind words about my story, "Wilson's Man" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine January 2008), on a blog dedicated to short crime fiction (Nasty. Brutish. Short.), and I thought, well, I should read one of his books (and it was embarrassing that I hadn't already). (I used to be a regular on a listserv dedicated to hard-boiled crime fiction called "Rara-Avis," and Bill was a constant fount of knowledge there; he also writes the "Blog Bytes" column for EQMM and is a tireless blogger himself; Bill and I also share academic backgrounds, though he voluntarily retired from academe, whereas I was summarily neglected out of it; and now Bill is going to think I'm stalking him.)
Too Late to Die is the first in what has become a long series featuring Bracklin County sheriff, Dan Rhodes. It is a gently humorous, colorful procedural/whodunit that also includes a few good doses of action (I would say it is medium-boiled). The plot revolves around a few strangely connected (or disconnected) murders and some other crimes and shenanigans. Sheriff Rhodes pursues his investigation, his re-election, and a new girlfriend, all at the same time. Rhodes is likable, and he is supported by a cast of quirky figures, some rustic, some smooth, some loony, and some deadly. The book moves at a fast clip, and like the often great Gold Medals paperbacks of yore, it's all wrapped up in under 200 pages. I only mention length because I have become increasingly fond of tight books and increasingly impatient with the bloat that creeps into many books today. Just now, February 2008, the fifteenth Sheriff Dan Rhodes book is coming out; it's called, "Of All Sad Words," and I'm guessing this new one is worth reading, too.
My recent West Texas experience came via the movie, No Country for Old Men. Incredibly brutal, unpredictable, and highly recommended, but I've run out of steam. I'll write about it next time.