Terry Shames' Samuel Craddock mysteries are always thought-provoking views of our society. But, none of them have been as timely or challenging as the latest story, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock.
Shames takes us back to the beginning of Craddock's career as police chief of Jarrett Creek, Texas. It's the mid-eighties. Craddock's wife, Jeanne, is still alive, and they've only been married for six years. Despite Jeanne's wishes, Samuel accepted the position of chief of police six months earlier. However, he's a raw, young lawman with no experience, and a small amount of training when the first violent crime on his watch occurs. In fact, he's so inexperienced, he ignores the phone, and goes to bed with his wife.
But, it's a tragic crime scene. A house in Darktown, where all the black people in town live, burned down. There are five bodies, all young, including that of a girl who was shot as she ran from the fire. Craddock is sickened by the scene, but it isn't his crime scene. He only has a small department, so in Texas, the investigation is turned over to the Texas Highway Patrol. But, when John Sutherland, a racist trooper, handles the case, that means he'll arrest a black man. And, Craddock just doesn't believe the man killed those people or torched the house.
We learn a great deal about Samuel Craddock as a man in this book. Shames provides his backstory, the account of his rough childhood, and his ongoing family issues. We already knew about his love for Jeanne. But, now we learn about his moral beliefs, and his willingness to take on the entire community to defend a black man when he believes in his innocence. He has to take on a culture of bigotry, even within his own family. And, he realizes how unprepared he was for the job of chief of police. The town hired him to get rid of a drug problem, and he didn't try. Now, he faces a tragedy, and he was unprepared. He accepted the job, thinking, "How much trouble can a town of three thousand people get into?" Now that he's tested, he realizes what he did. "I took on the job to make a statement that I am a man and I can make my own way, and I haven't lived up to that ideal....I've embarrassed myself, and it's time to remedy that."
An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock makes Craddock the man readers recognize from later books. He's challenged to look at his own beliefs, to look at the people around him. Shames' mystery may be the story of one man, one Texas community in the mid-eighties, but it's a challenge to look at the police system, the justice system, and our own beliefs. Where are we in the 21st century?
Terry Shames' website is www.terryshames.com
An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames. Seventh Street Books. 2017. ISBN 9781633882096 (paperback), 267p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.