Review: A Texas cop solves murder of a woman with a secret

“Murder at the Jubilee Rally” by Terry Shames (Severn House)

Samuel Craddock, the amiable police chief of mythical Jarrett Creek, Texas, is good at his job, but he’s got a lot to deal with in “Murder at the Jubilee Rally,” Terry Shames’s ninth novel in this genre-bending mystery series.

For starters, the annual, week-long Jubilee Motorcycle Rally is about to open just outside of town to the delight of local shopkeepers who profit from it and to the dismay of other town folk who hate the rowdiness that comes with it.

This not the best time for Craddock to take charge of his 16-year-old great-niece Hailey, a sweet girl who’s suddenly morphed into a terror with a taste for alcohol and an age-inappropriate older boyfriend. Nevertheless, he does so because her exhausted and distressed parents need a break.

The novel opens at a contentious town meeting, with half the town demanding that motorcycles be banned for the duration of the rally and the other half griping that their neighbors are trying to put them out of business. Craddock, ever the peacemaker, settles matters by getting both sides to agree to an 8 p.m. closing time for Jarrett Creek business establishments until the rally disperses.

However, things immediately go south when Amber Johnson, a store owner who’s been her family’s bread winner since her husband was crippled in a motorcycle accident, is stabbed to death on the first evening of the rally.

So, Craddock has to deal with a devious and impetuous teen while conducting a murder investigation. Fortunately, he gets help with the former from his girlfriend and with the latter from Maria Trevino, the best investigator in his small department. With his combination of common sense and skill as a police officer, he eventually manages to bring both to a successful conclusion.

The author’s folksy prose and Jarrett Creek’s small-town ways — Craddock’s gossipy neighbor, Loretta, brings him freshly baked goodies every morning— give the novel the feel of a cozy. However, local problems ranging from drug abuse to prostitution, and the hero’s talent for conducting an investigation, give the novel the feel of a modern police procedural.

Despite a series of missteps, Craddock cracks the case when he discovers that the victim has been leading a double life that led to her death. The result is another entertaining novel in a critically acclaimed series that has been nominated for a host of prizes and won the Macavity Award.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

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