Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Last Death of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames

Fans of Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire might want to try Terry Shames' Samuel Craddock mysteries. Craddock is cut from the same cloth, a lawman who understands people. But, Craddock's small Texas town of Jarrett Creek stands alone as a location. I just can't think of a higher compliment than to say Shames' latest book, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, reminds me of the best of Craig Johnson's writing.

The townspeople of Jarrett Creek are as crazy about high school football as any other Texas town. So, they cuss out the coach when the team loses at homecoming. And, they put up with Jack Harbin's cranky ways because he was once the best quarterback the town ever saw. Jack has reasons to be angry and bitter. He lost the girl to his best friend in high school. He enlisted just about the time the Gulf War became hot. And, he came back from the war after losing a leg and being blinded. But, he's part of the rhythm of the town. Everyone knew his father would bring him to the Town Cafe between 9 and 11. But, a town's rhythm can be thrown off by death.

No one who really knows the police chief calls on him for help. He's probably suffering from a hangover, or in the process of getting one. Instead, they call the retired chief, Samuel Craddock. So, when a neighbor finds Jack spilled out of his wheelchair, and his father on the ground, she calls Craddock. He's the one who tries to resuscitate Bob Hardin. And, he's the only one who listens to Jack when he expresses doubts about his father's death. But, when Jack himself is murdered, Craddock doesn't know if it's connected to his father's death, or something in Jack's past. It won't take much to push Craddock into asking a few questions.

Terry Shames' biography says she grew up in Texas "and continues to be fascinated by the convoluted loyalties and betrayals of the small town where she has deep family ties." Those convoluted loyalties, betrayals and ties are the strength of this series. Samuel Craddock is a shrewd ex-lawman who knows how to ask questions and dig for answers. He also knows how to keep a secret, something hard to do in a town where news spreads quickly. Shames understands her characters and the community, and she brings them to life. She brings them to life through all of the issues that are part of Texas; high school football, veterans returning to small towns, religious sects and survivalist communities.

If you watched or read Friday Night Lights, you might want to check out The Last Death of Jack Harbin. Fans of Craig Johnson or Steven Havill's Posadas County mysteries might want to check it out. Or, you might just want to check out Shames' Samuel Craddock mysteries if you want a complex, riveting story dealing with contemporary issues. Sometimes the best books are written by authors who aren't on the bestseller lists. The Last Death of Jack Harbin is one of those, a gritty, compelling story.

Terry Shames' website is

The Last Death of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames. Seventh Street Books. 2014. ISBN 9781616148713 (paperback), 255p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Janet C said...

I picked this up yesterday and it's going right to the top of my TBR pile. I loved the first book and Sam Craddock. Just need to finish my current read.

Lesa said...

Janet, Reviewer Kevin Tipple said it reminds him more of Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes books. Kevin would know that better than I do. I'm glad you loved the first book!

Linda Rima said...

Haven't Terry's series, but I've added them to the top of TBR list. Thanks for the review and opportunity to learn more about Terry Shames. I grew up in a small rural Texas town so intrigued by the premise of series.

Lesa said...

I hope you enjoy it, Linda. With your background, I have the feeling you will.