A new mystery from Terry Shames: ‘A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge’ – #bookreview #mystery

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge

Terry Shames

(Seventh Street – paperback, Kindle)

The title may be a bit too folksy and over the top for a few hard-core mystery lovers. But the Samuel Craddock investigative series by Terry Shames does an excellent job of capturing the sights, sounds, speech patterns, customs, mannerisms and values of many people in contemporary East Texas, an area of the state that identifies more closely with the Deep South than with the Wild West. And her central character, Samuel Craddock, is both a retired small-town police chief and someone people still quickly turn to for help when there’s trouble.

Even in bucolic East Texas, trouble is always brewing somewhere nearby. And, despite his age and a bad knee, Samuel Craddock can be counted on to try to help, whether it’s defusing bad-blood tensions between two people or two families or, central to each book, tracking down a killer. He knows many people and knows something of their histories. But he is frequently surprised by what happens within the undercurrents that flow through seemingly tranquil small towns and their surrounding countryside.

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge is the fourth novel in Ms. Shames’s fast-expanding series. Her previous Samuel Craddock mystery,  Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, was published just six months ago (October, 2014). And it saw Craddock coming out of retirement to take over again, temporarily, as Jarrett Creek’s police chief.

In Deadly Affair, Craddock is still on the job from which he previously retired. And now he is having to go out of his jurisdiction to investigate a complicated case involving a death and a very close friend who isn’t telling him the whole truth about her background.

Terry Shames grew up in East Texas and knows how to make her fictionalized settings and characters come alive.  If you are looking for a new, different and engrossing investigator to follow, slow down, relax a bit and mosey along with Samuel Craddock as he sets out to solve yet another mysterious death.

Si Dunn

 

KLAIL CITY / KLAIL CITY y sus alrededores – 1st bilingual edition of the 2nd novel in the famed ‘Klail City Death Trip’ series – #bookreview

 

Klail City y sus alredeores

Klail City / Klail City y sus alrededores

Rolando Hinojosa

(Arte Público – paperback)

 

Problems involving race relations and immigration never go away in the United States. Sometimes, they boil over in big, violent ways that bring them back to the headlines, spotlights and TV screens — until something else happens that shifts the media’s–and the public’s–attentions elsewhere. Yet, even then, the problems stay with us, in our daily lives and in our literature.

Klail City / Klail City y sus alrededores is the second book in Rolando Hinojosa’s famed “Klail City Death Trip” series, which recently totaled 15 novels. In Klail City, a fictional town near the Texas-Mexico border, Texas Mexicans are the majority population, but a minority of Anglos run the town.

This well-written book, set just before and during the Korean War, examines life at a time when Anglos on the high school football team are given letter jackets, but the Texas Mexican players initially are not. It is a town where a young Mexican-American veteran of combat in World War II has been shot down by an Anglo deputy sheriff under questionable circumstances. After a long-delayed trial, the deputy is cleared by a jury, and the young veteran’s father can do little else to protest except destroy a marker listing the names of men from the county who were killed during the war, including his own son. It is a town where one man tells another: “We’re like the Greeks, Don Manuel. Slaves in service of the Romans…we’ve got to educate them, these Romans, these Anglos…amounts to the same thing.”

The Spanish version of Klail City was published in the 1970s in Cuba and won the Casa de las Américas prize in 1976. Arte Público Press at the University of Houston published an English language edition in 1987.

The new edition from Arte Público is the first bilingual version to be published. The novel is presented first in English, followed by the Spanish version.

Rolando Hinojosa’s often experimental writing style has been described as having echoes of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Márquez.  His 15-book “Klail City Death Trip” series is set mostly in fictional Belken County in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Arte Público is “the nation’s largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors.”

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

DEADLY RUSE – In this 2nd Mac McClellan Mystery, Mac investigates a weird case while becoming a Florida P.I. – #bookreview

 

 

Deadly Ruse

E. Michael Helms

(Seventh Street – paperback, Kindle)

 

Fans of E. Michael Helms’s debut “Mac McClellan Mystery” novel, Deadly Catch, will be pleased with this fine new addition to the series.

In Deadly Ruse, Mac’s girlfriend, Kate Bell, thinks she has seen a ghost–specifically, a previous boyfriend who supposedly was killed at sea more than a decade ago, along with two other passengers when their boat caught fire and sank. Mac reluctantly begins to investigate and soon finds himself caught up in a very dangerous case involving drugs, diamonds, murder–and more.

Mac McClellan is an appealing everyman character. In Deadly Ruse, he is still trying to figure out what he wants to do next with his life, now that he has fought in Iraq and been retired from the U.S. Marines for a while. Sometimes, however, Helms lets the everyman angles go just a bit overboard, with Kate saying “Dang, Mac” too often and Mac making an occasional commonplace pronouncement such as “You take the proverbial cake” or “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

Deadly Ruse is set in the Florida Panhandle and briefly in Texas and Atlanta, Georgia, and Helms has a fine knack for blending real locales into his fiction. In this new novel, Mac manages to get his basic Florida private investigator’s license, while cracking a big case. But, under Florida law, he will have to continue interning for a detective agency for two years before he can go out on his own. Thus, the Mac McClellan Mystery series is now set up well for future cases.

E. Michael Helms is a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War and author of a combat memoir, The Proud Bastards, as well as a two-part Civil War novel, Of Blood and Brothers.

 — Si Dunn

 

 

The Valley – Estampas del valle: Now in bilingual paperback for the first time – #bookreview

The-Valley-350x550

The Valley / Estampas del valle

Rolando Hinojosa

(Arte Público Press – paperback)

The long-turbulent Texas-Mexico border is in the news once again. So this is a timely moment to introduce or reintroduce readers to the famed Klail City Death Trip Series, fifteen books written by Rolando Hinojosa. The series is in a mythical Texas county on America’s southern frontier, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The first book in that series, The Valley, introduces readers to life in Belken County, where Anglo Texans and Mexican Texans live side by side, and people die, or encounter death, on nearly every page. Their stories of everyday events, including love, weddings, births, friendships, affairs, discrimination and dying, are told mostly in short, well-written vignettes that cover the time period generally from World War I to 1970.

Arte Público Press recently has published the first bilingual, English-Spanish edition of The Valley, which initially appeared as Estampas del Valle in the early 1970s. And this is a noteworthy literary event for fans of both Hispanic literature and American literature in general.

Rolando Hinojosa’s fictional Belken County has been compared very favorably with William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and with Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional city, Macondo, in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Klail City is just one of several fictional towns in that appear as settings in Hinojosa’s imaginary county.

Hinojosa has spent his entire–lengthy–writing career bringing new characters, situations and locations to the Death Trip Series. And his books have won numerous prestigious writing awards, including The National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award and, in 1976, the most prestigious prize in Latin American Fiction, Casa de las Américanas, for the best  Spanish American novel. He is now a professor of creative writing at the University of Texas in Austin.

Si Dunn

 

The Last Camel Charge – An intriguing look at America’s pre-Civil War desert military experiment – #bookreview

The Last Camel Charge: The Untold Story of America’s Desert Military Experiment
Forrest Bryant Johnson
(Berkley Caliber, hardbackKindle)

The U.S. Army employed camels as transportation and pack animals in the American West during the mid-19th century and tried to create “a U.S. camel cavalry, a true camel corps,” the author of this fascinating history work notes.

Initially headquartered near San Antonio, Texas, the fledgling camel corps soon became involved in expeditions of discovery, as well as fighting in several areas.

The notable actions included a victorious camel charge against Mojave Indians in the Arizona Territory and helping naval lieutenant Edward Beale’s successfully create a wagon trail from Texas to California.

The Civil War ended the camel corps experiment, the author shows. But Union and Confederate forces both used camels during the conflict, and the last U.S. Army camel died in captivity in 1934.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that a few wild camels, distant offspring of the Camel Corps, are still alive and roaming the most desolate and isolated areas of the American Southwest. Indeed, the author notes, several wild camels were photographed near a West Texas railroad track in 2003.

Si Dunn

Dance All Night: Those Other Southwestern Swing Bands, Past and Present – #bookreview #in #music

Dance All Night: Those Other Southwestern Swing Bands, Past and Present
Jean A. Boyd
(Texas Tech University Press, hardback, list price $65.00; paperback, list price $39.95)

Fans of 1930s and 1940s western swing will find plenty to enjoy in this entertaining book by Jean A. Boyd, a  Baylor University music history professor and native of Fort Worth, Texas.

She celebrates the distinctive music and its Texas roots and highlights several groups that, unlike Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, did not or have not made it into the national spotlight.

Yet these bands have picked, fiddled, strummed and sung their way to regional stardom in Texas and Oklahoma.

Her book likely will also appeal to musicologists and performers. She includes musical analysis and transcriptions of recorded performances, as well as histories and recollections.

Si Dunn 

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The New London explosion – Two views of America’s worst school disaster – #bookreview #texas #history

 My Boys and Girls Are in There: The 1937 New London School Explosion
By Ron Rozelle
(Texas A&M, hardback, list price $24.95; Kindle edition, list price $24.95)

 Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History
By David M. Brown and Michael Wereschagin
(Potomac Books, hardback, $29.95; Kindle edition, list price $29.95)

On March 18, 1937, in East Texas’ tiny New London community, a natural gas explosion killed some 300 students, teachers and others at London Junior-Senior High School.

Seventy-five years later, the exact death toll in America’s worst school disaster remains uncertain. But its grim lessons are relevant and timely again as school districts across the nation struggle to cut their operating expenses without endangering student safety. 

Briefly, at least, the New London catastrophe made world headlines. Even Adolph Hitler sent a message of condolence. One of the reporters who covered the explosion’s aftermath was a young Dallas newsman named Walter Cronkite.

But 1937 was a year full of troubling currents and undercurrents, including the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Germany, Italy and Japan as military powers, and the Roosevelt Administration’s continuing struggles to lift the American economy out of the Great Depression.

Across most of the world, the devastating event soon faded into the global swirl of tensions and distractions. 

But not in New London. The shock continued to run so deep, townspeople “refused to speak of the explosion or of its victims, to the press or even to each other,” Ron Rozelle notes in My Boys and Girls Are in There.

Indeed, four decades passed before the first commemoration could be organized. And, 75 years after the school tragedy, some people still shudder when the explosion is mentioned. Pains and fears it created continue to be carried forward by survivors, witnesses, family members, and friends of the dead and injured.

“Sorrow is ambulatory, and refuses to be left behind,” writes Rozelle, an author and educator who grew up 80 miles from New London. Rozelle’s father was one of many volunteers who helped search the destroyed school for survivors and victims.

Rozelle’s book is written to read like a novel, yet its chapters arise from historical records, extensive follow-up research, and interviews with people who lost loved ones, survived injuries or otherwise were scarred.

Meanwhile, one of the authors of  Gone at 3:17, David M. Brown, also grew up in East Texas and has spent more than two decades interviewing New London survivors, rescuers and others. His co-writer, Michael Wereschagin, is a veteran journalist who has covered several large disasters. Their factual account likewise reads like a story. And, benefitting from doubled manpower, it offers some additional details on survivors, witnesses, investigations, and where victims were buried.

Both works are well-researched and well-written, and they bring fresh perspectives to the New London school explosion and its aftermath.  They also can be emotionally wrenching to read.

A key lesson from New London remains valid today as states struggle to reduce their school budgets. New London’s school was part of the London Consolidated School District, which may have been America’s richest rural school district in 1937. Tax revenues from oil production and related industries were plentiful. Indeed, London Junior-Senior High was the first secondary school in Texas to get electric lights for its football field. Yet, the superintendent and at least some of the board members still bore down hard on costs, to the point that money finally was put above student safety.

Late in 1936, the superintendent, with quiet approval from four board members, decided to disconnect the school from commercial natural gas and tap into a free, unregulated and widely available byproduct of gasoline refining: waste natural gas. Their hope was to save $250 a month.

Refineries pumped the waste gas back to oil rigs through networks of bleed-off lines, and rig operators were required to dispose of it. Most released it into the air through tall pipes, and the gas was burned, lighting the sky night and day with flaring orange flames.

“The practice of tapping into waste gas lines was something of an open secret in the oil patch,” Brown and Wereschagin write. Homeowners and business owners welded valves to some of the bleed-off lines, and they installed regulators to try to control gas pressures that varied widely. “With no one monitoring it, it came with no bill,” they note.

One pipeline passed 200 feet from New London’s school, and in 1937: “The [connection] crew had gone out in early January—a janitor, two bus drivers, and a welder the school had contracted….”

Blame for the blast often has been placed on the superintendent and on some of the board members he reported to. However, both of these new books highlight bad choices made by others, as well.

For example, refiners failed to enforce policies barring gas line taps, Brown and Wereschagin point out. And no one could smell the odorless gas as it leaked and collected in the school’s big basement, Rozelle emphasizes.

A single electrical spark from a basement light switch apparently set off the explosion.

Afterward, Texas quickly passed laws that might have been enacted sooner, if politics had not stood in the way. One law added a malodorant, “a distinctive, faintly repulsive scent,” to natural gas to provide as leak warning. Another law required “anyone working with gas connections be trained and certified as an engineer by the state.” Other states soon followed Texas’ action.

Today, Brown and Wereschagin stress,  most Americans “have never heard of the New London, Texas, school explosion” and have no idea how or why natural gas got its noxious smell.

These two timely books provide painful but important reminders why the New London school explosion and its grim lessons should never be forgotten.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available now in paperback. He is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

 

The Trials of Eroy Brown: The Murder Case That Shook the Texas Prison System – #bookreview #in

The Trials of Eroy Brown: The Murder Case That Shook the Texas Prison System
By Michael Berryhill
(University of Texas, hardback, list price $29.95; paperback, list price $25.00)

A prizewinning journalist has dug deeply and impressively into a double killing that still haunts the Texas Department of Criminal Justice more than 30 years after it happened.

In 1981, a prison farm manager and a warden were killed by a black inmate who claimed self-defense. Many predicted the inmate, a convicted burglar and robber named Eroy Brown, would be executed.

But just a year earlier, Texas inmates had won a huge federal civil rights victory against “unrelenting cruelty” and brutal civil rights violations within the Texas prison system. In three trials that followed the killings, juries repeatedly considered the state’s evidence and found Brown innocent each time.

The verdicts, writes Berryhill, “marked the end of Jim Crow justice in Texas.” His account of Eroy Brown’s “astonishing” defense is based on trial documents, exhibits, and journalistic accounts and also draws upon Brown’s story told in his own words.

Berryhill, an excellent writer and researcher, chairs Texas Southern University’s journalism program. He previously has won a Texas Institute of Letters prize for nonfiction.

He has written for a number of well-known publications, including Harper’s, the New Republic, the Houston Chronicle, and the New York Times magazine.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He also is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

Looking anew at the intense feud between leaders of the Texas Republic’s Navy & Army – #bookreview

To the People of Texas
An Appeal: In Vindication of His Conduct of the Navy

By Commodore Edwin W. Moore, T.N., edited with an introduction by Jonathan W. Jordan
(DeGolyer Library, hardback, list price $60.00 plus applicable sales tax and $5.00 shipping)

A friend who knows that I enjoy naval histories recently sent me a copy of this intriguing but somewhat expensive book.

It was published last summer, yet it is still new enough and important enough to view as a “new” book worthy of wide consideration. It is a 2011 reprint of Commodore Edwin W. Moore’s 1843 defense of his conduct and strategies as leader of the Texas Navy. Only a few copies of Moore’s original manifesto remain in existence, mostly in rare book collections. So this is a welcome event for those who relish works of history related to the Republic of Texas, before it became a state, or rely on them for academic and artistic research.

The first two sentences of editor Jonathan W. Jordan’s well-written introduction go right to the heart of reason why Commodore Moore felt compelled to defend himself for more than 200 pages in his original book:

“Within four years of assuming his post, the Texas Republic’s greatest naval commander became the mortal enemy of its greatest army commander. The hatred that burned between Commodore Edwin Ward Moore and President Sam Houston would fuel a fifteen-year war of charges, insults, and invitations to duel that would corrupt the reputations of both Texas patriots before the U.S. Senate, the Texas Congress, and the peoples of two republics.”

Indeed, Jordan notes, “Their bitterness would endure to the end of both men’s days, far beyond the life of the frontier republic, and would shape the historical legacies of Moore, Houston, and the Texas Navy.”

What created this intense hatred between two essential military leaders? According to Jordan: “Judged from the words and deeds of the antagonists, the acrimony appears to have been a hybrid flower born of three toxic seeds: a divergence over what Texas should become; differences in strategy; and the age-old reality that army generals do not always grasp the best uses of naval power.”

Along with being a “vindication,” letters from and to Commodore Moore within the book give a fascinating look at life and politics within the upper levels of the Texas Navy.

For example, in one letter written on May 7, 1842, to George W. Hockley, Texas’ Secretary of War and Marine, Commodore Moore reported that “nearly every officer in the Navy has tendered his resignation to-day—the reasons assigned, are, that they cannot get their pay, and as they owe a large amount, they must resort to other means of paying it.”

That same day, Commodore Moore wrote another letter to Secretary Hockley reporting that he had just purchased the steamer Patrick Henry, adding: “…she is represented to me to be in a good running condition, and if she can be of any service to the Government to the westward, or any where else, the Government is welcome to the use of her, free of any charge, until I want her, which will not be for some time.”

Secretary Hockley responded to the first letter by telling Commodore Moore that “[t]he resignations of all who wish to leave the service, you will accept forthwith…”

And Commodore Moore responded by reporting that he had “advanced all my means, and used all my credit to sustain the Navy on repeated occasions, but each successive of the last three sessions of Congress have cramped it more and more until the officers have nearly despaired.”

He added that, based on existing promises of future pay and his own pleadings to his officers, “nearly all of them have withdrawn their resignations…” and agreed to serve their country longer without pay, even though “many of them at this time are without a decent pair of shoes….”

This fascinating work contains several pages of illustrations from the era, plus notes to the introduction, notes to the text and a select bibliography. Libraries, scholars, historians, lovers of Texas history and others should give special consideration to this important book.

The new DeGolyer edition can be purchased by sending $60.00 plus applicable sales tax, along with $5.00 shipping and handling, to:

 The DeGolyer Library
 Southern Methodist University
 P.O. Box 750396
 Dallas, TX  75275-0396

Include shipping information and make checks payable to “The DeGolyer Library.” The book’s publisher is “unable to accept credit cards.”

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

An omnibus of 3 novels from ‘the greatest Western writer of all time’ – #bookreview

Long Way to Texas: Three Novels
By Elmer Kelton
(Forge, hardback, list price $25.99)

Elmer Kelton, author of more than 50 books, primarily Western novels, died in 2009. But his works live on in popular collections and reprints.

This new omnibus from Forge gathers together three “rare” Kelton Westerns: Long Way to Texas, Joe Pepper, and Eyes of the Hawk.

The title novel, Long Way to Texas, focuses on a Confederate lieutenant in charge of a small group of riflemen who are running out of water and food after a Civil War battle at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico.

Joe Pepper is about a man whose strong sense of justice pushed him to the wrong side of the law and on to violence that is about to result in his hanging.

And Eyes of the Hawk tells the tale of a strong-willed man who would rather destroy a town than forgive someone who he thinks has wronged him.

Readers unfamiliar with Kelton but curious about Westerns can start virtually anywhere within his long list of novels and find many good books to read. This new omnibus is as good a spot as any to get hooked on Elmer Kelton’s realistic and nicely detailed tales.

The late Texas novelist has been hailed as “the greatest Western writer of all time” by the Western Writers of America—no small honor.

His other accolades include seven Spur Awards, four Western Heritage Awards, and a lifetime achievement award from the Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities.

Book reviewers frequently have noted that what Kelton does best in his writing is capture the essences of real people and real places and describe them clear, down-to-earth terms.

“I have often been asked how my characters differ from the traditional larger-than-life heroes of the mythical West,” he noted in his 2007 autobiography Sandhills Boy. “Those, I reply, are seven feet tall and invincible. My characters are five-eight and nervous.”

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.