Friday, February 22, 2019

Bill Crider, That Old Scoundrel Death

Bill Crider, That Old Scoundrel Death
Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press, 2019
© Bill Crider 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-16562-6
Also available as an ebook

The 25th (and, unfortunately, likely last) Sheriff Dan Rhodes book gives us an intriguing plot, Crider’s well-drawn characters (both continuing and those specific to this book), and a setting that pulls it all together into an entertaining few hours.  He does, however, leave one thread hanging:  Will Sheriff Rhodes run for re-election?  I rather hope that, in the world of Blacklin County and Clearview, he will continue to maintain law and order for many years.

We start off with a traffic incident.  Local lay-about and petty criminal Kenny Lambert has chased after a man named Cal Stinson, claiming Stinson cut him off.  Lambert is threatening to shoot him.  Stinson, a newcomer, explains that he’s been out to see the old school in Thurston, which some people in the county want to turn into a community center and others want to tear down.  Rhodes arrests Lambert, and one of his deputies (Ruth Brady) pulls in to tell Rhodes that there’s something he needs to deal with.  Rhodes turns Lambert over to her, and heads for the mayor’s office.

Where he discovers that there’s a new on-line “news” source in town—a blog calling itself Digging that Blacklin County Dirt, run by “Thomas Paine” and “Patrick Henry” which has just called the mayor a nincompoop for wanting to keep his old office once the new City Hall building opens, and the mayor wants Sheriff Dan Rhodes to do something about it.  Rhodes calms him down, pointing out the freedom of the press, among other things, and suggesting a way for the mayor to find out who’s running the operation—hire Seepy Benson, a teacher at the local junior college (and former ghost hunter), who has a PI license—to find out..

Back at the office, he learns (from Hack, the dispatcher) that Stinson has not come in to file a formal complaint.  Rhodes tell Hack to see whether he can find an address for Stinson; Hack can find no one named Cal Stinson in any database he can access.

The next day, a Thurston resident (Wanda Wilkins calls the sheriff’s office to report a dead body in the old school.  And it’s Stinson.  Well, not Stinson, but you know what I mean.  He’s been shot.  And, he had told the woman who later found his body that his name was “Bruce Wayne.”  (And I don’t have to tell you who “Bruce Wayne is, or was, do I?)  Which makes finding out “Stinson” really is somewhat important.  Which he does, in fairly short order (with an assist from Seepy)—he’s one of the people behind Digging that Blacklin County Dirt.  And, as t happens, they’ve been following the school issue.

Rhodes decides he’s going to have to talk to the people involved in the dispute over the school (after all, the body was found there).  And the people Rhodes talks to about “Stinson’s” death all seen to have something to hide. That includes the Hunleys [a family with two war heroes—father (Viet Nam) and son (Desert Storm)] the Falkners, and the Reeses.  The Hunleys are primary backers of saving the old school, and the other couples are the leaders of the “replace” forces.

That’s pretty much the setup.  There are no apparent specific leads.  Even “Stinson’s” car has vanished.  But Rhodes keeps asking questions, finding discrepancies and evasions, and finally has enough to put it all together and is able to identify the killer.  And that has always been Rhodes’s approach.  Ask questions, look for inconsistencies, ask more questions, until the pattern becomes clear and he knows whodunit and where, ultimately, to find the evidence.  I will say that one of the final scenes in the book strikes me as (atypically) implausible, but that’s a truly minor issue (and other readers may not agree with me anyway).  The resolution is in fact rather poignant, but true to the characters.

Crider always does a remarkable job with the low-life characters, in this case especially Kenny and Noble.  These two are none too bright, not ambitious, and have no redeeming social value, but he makes them almost sympathetic.  They are the sort of minor characters who could come back in another book, not as major figures, but as local color and background.

I’ve been reading the Dan Rhodes books since the mid-1990s, and have found them all somewhere between well above average to excellent.  This is one of the excellent ones.  And I will miss having additional opportunities to spend a few hours with Sheriff Rhodes. His deputies and staff, and his wife Ivy.  And the dogs, Speedo and Yancy.

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