"Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that." With the opening lines of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol as the inspiration for his new mystery, Bill Crider challenges Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Is Jake Marley's death accidental or murder in Dead, To Begin With? And, Crider throws Dickens' ghost story at the sheriff who professes to be a disbeliever.
Jake Marley was a wealthy recluse who finally left the family home to buy the Clearview Opera House with the intention of renovating it. He even hired a college English teacher to turn A Christmas Carol into a Texas production. But, before his plans could be publicized, Marley is found dead on the stage. It appears he fell from the wooden grids overhead, but Sheriff Rhodes is suspicious, and requests an autopsy. When the results come back, Rhodes starts to ask questions. And eventually, those questions lead to the past.
"The past was never dead in a small town." And, Rhodes, who investigates by talking to people, is struck by the similarity of the stories he hears. No one talked to Marley lately. He became a recluse after the tragic death of his sister years earlier. And, now, "Marley was dead."
Once again, Bill Crider strikes all the right notes in his mystery filled with quirky, engaging characters. It's always a treat to catch up with Sheriff Rhodes, his wife, Ivy, and Hack and Lawton, the Abbott and Costello team of dispatcher and jailer, the college professors who are ghost hunters. Crider gathers all of them in this book. There's a homespun tone to the Sheriff Dan Rhodes stories. They're amusing, but the sheriff always takes crime seriously. He's a shrewd man who listens carefully, and understands people, his dogs, and his cats. Crider understands his audience as well, and gives all of his readers a present, bringing a little Dickens, along with wonderful characters, to the latest story, Dead, To Begin With.
Although Bill Crider's website is http://www.billcrider.com, he and his VBKs (Very Bad Kittens) can also be found on Facebook.
Dead, To Begin With by Bill Crider. Minotaur Books, 2017. ISBN 9781250078537 (hardcover), 272p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.