Monday, April 13, 2015


Those of you who know me or read my posts with any regularity know I'm an admitted cover junkie. I can be swayed by a cover like a river reed in a breeze, and I unabashedly love the covers of the Samuel Craddock series, written by Terry Shames. The cover was the initial reason I picked up the first, A Killing at Cotton Hill, and I enjoyed it enough that I moved on to the second, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, which I liked even more.

Samuel Craddock is the somewhat recently widowed former chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas. These days, Samuel spends his time tending his cows, visiting with friends, and admiring the art he collected with his late wife. But following his retirement, Jarrett Creek was left saddled with an alcoholic chief of police and his less than stellar deputies, and Samuel is a man who can't sit idle while incompetence and laziness allow an investigation to falter or injustice to breed.

Twenty-odd years ago, Jack Harbin was the star quarterback of the high school football team, best friends with teammate Woody and gal pal Taylor. The boys enlisted in the military together, but Woody was rejected and Jack went off solo to serve in the Gulf War. Woody and Jack had a mysterious falling out and haven't spoken since Jack left, despite his return home, blinded and missing a leg.

Jack is brutally murdered just when the police chief is shuffled off to rehab. Unable to count on deputies to get the job done, the mayor asks Samuel to look into the killing. This suits Samuel just fine as he was already determined to figure out who killed Jack, invited or not. The investigation peers into the worlds of veteran loyalty (and biker veteran loyalty at that), small town love and betrayal, religious cults, and the intricacies and impediments of the ties of families and friends. It brings Jack, Woody, and Taylor back to an intersection where the secrets of the past have to be told in order for the truth to surface.

Having lived in a small mid-western town, I felt Shames hit the ambiance smack on the nail's head. People are proud, wealth is unevenly distributed. Churches are many, but football is the shared religion. Coffee and baked goods are offered up to visitors, often despite the intention of the visit. The sense of place was written so well it felt like a force in the book, one that moved with and butted against the people who reside in Jarrett Creek.

Samuel Craddock is one of those characters you wish you knew in real life. He has empathy and integrity, and tries to do the right thing even when it might not be the smart thing. He's a man you'd want as a grandfather, father, uncle, brother, or friend; someone you know would have your back. The secondary characters are well-drawn and interesting in their own right, but I hope to see a little more in upcoming installments, especially from Jenny, Samuel's lawyer neighbor and wine-drinking partner.

I'm not a fan of categorizing, but for sake of potential readers I would say this series likely best fits the model of a traditional mystery, and most, if not all, of the violence takes place "off screen." However, even if, like me, you tend to read grittier or more violent fare, this series is well worth your while.

STREET SENSE:  I recommend this award-winning series with gusto for anyone who likes character-based mysteries without in-your-face grit. The books are serious as well as charming, and that's a good combination when the protagonist is as fine as Samuel Craddock and the other characters are kept as interesting and curiosity-piquing as these. The series probably doesn't have to be read in order, but I'd recommend it:

A Killing at Cotton Hill
The Last Death of Jack Harbin
Dead Broke at Jarrett Creek
A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Her eyes are as watchful as a dog used to being hit at random.

COVER NERD SAYS:  I love everything about these covers, and appreciate that they are consistent from book to book. You could show me one of these covers (or a future cover) without any text on it and I could pick it out as one written by Terry Shames. The colors are great, the images really speak to me, and I think they serve the content perfectly.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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