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A KILLING AT COTTON HILL by Terry Shames: Book Review

I’m finding that books about small-town sheriffs, both working and retired, are a delight to read.  There are many, both male and female, but three of my favorites are William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor series, Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series, and Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series (all reviewed on this blog).   Now I’ve met Samuel Craddock, retired sheriff of Jarrett Creek, Texas, and he’s definitely been added to my favorites list.

Jarrett Creek is like most small towns, a place where everyone knows everyone else.   When Samuel finds out that an old friend, Dora Mae Parjeter, was found murdered, he has an overwhelming feeling of guilt as well as sadness at the loss.  The sadness is obvious, the guilt less so.  But the night before Dora Mae’s death she called him to say she thought someone was sitting in a car outside her house, watching her; because she had called Samuel previously with similar statements, he told her to call him in the morning if she still was worried.  Unfortunately, this time there was obviously something to be worried about.

Samuel’s replacement as sheriff is Rodell Skinner, an alcoholic who was appointed to the office by his cousin, the mayor.  Knowing Rodell’s incompetence and desire for a quick and easy solution to any crime, Samuel goes to Dora Mae’s farm and finds that her grandson, Greg, is Rodell’s main suspect.

It appears that Greg and his grandmother had an argument a few days before the murder, so it’s easy for the new sheriff to make a case against Greg.  Samuel promises Greg he’ll get him out of jail the next morning, and Samuel vows to himself to investigate the case thoroughly.

Greg is one of Dora Mae’s two living descendants.  Greg’s mother, who was Dora Mae’s daughter, and his father were killed in an automobile accident when Greg was a child, and he came to live with his grandmother.  Dora Mae’s other daughter, Caroline, was known as the “wild one” and left home as a teenager, some twenty years earlier.  Now Samuel finds information that leads him to believe that Caroline has returned to Texas and made contact with her mother, but Samuel is having no luck tracking Caroline down.

Going over Dora Mae’s accounts, Samuel is stunned to realize how close to the bone she had been living.  Her very talented grandson wanted to leave the farm and go to Houston to study art, but Dora Mae told him she didn’t have the money to send him.  However, Dora Mae’s new neighbors seem to be interested in buying the farm, an unseemly rapid interest given the circumstances of her death.

Jarrett Creek is home to a number of interesting citizens, much like an English village in a Golden Age mystery.  Here, as in many small towns and cities, the younger people leave for what they view as the greener pastures of big cities, leaving farms to lie fallow and local stores to go out of business.  One can hardly blame Greg, a talented artist, for wanting to pursue a career in Houston or beyond, but is that enough motive to kill his grandmother, assuming she really wanted to and was able to prevent him from leaving?

A Killing At Cotton Hill is a wonderful debut novel.  I eagerly look forward to the next Sheriff Samuel Craddock mystery.

You can read more about Terry Shames at her web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.


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