Survivors Will Be Shot Again by Bill Crider. (Mystery Novel, 2016).
I’m a late-comer to novelist Bill Crider’s work, but with this book you can count me as a new (if less than slavish) admirer. It seems he specializes in rural-Texas-based murder mysteries. It fact, this is the latest of over twenty novels centered around County Sheriff Dan Rhodes–a steady and respected lawman who hates having been the reputed model for a fictional hero cop in a series of mystery novels.
Yes, this is a cozy-style mystery series which features a similar series as an amusing background detail–with countless supporting characters often embarrassing our hero with references to his fictional alter-ego. Along with two gossipy and insubordinate subordinates at the jail, this recurrent detail provides much comic relief–although I will say that the smart-mouthed and repetitive bickering of the department’s Dispatcher and the Head Jailer did, on occasion wear a bit thin for me. But this is a minor flaw in what is overall a good and entertaining tale. Furthering Dan’s irritation is an online journalist whose stories sensationalize his activities and the boyfriend of one of his best deputies, who fancies himself an unofficial investigator.
All these are obviously regulars in the series, along with Dan’s opinionated but loving wife (forever struggling to keep him on a heart-healthy diet he hates) and the self-important County Commissioner who wants to equip the small-town force every high-tech/militarized gadget imaginable.
The book’s title stems from a sign that one Billy Bacon has posted at the entrance to his ranch: “Trespassers Will Be Shot; Survivors Will Be Shot Again.” Bacon and other rural denizens of the county have recently been victims of a wave of break-ins, and everyone is on edge. This surly warning takes on more meaning when the body of a neighbor turns up in Bacon’s barn with a pair of bullet wounds. Billy claims to have no idea what has happened.
Sheriff Dan and his deputies investigate and soon discover a small, fenced-in patch of marijuana being grown at the far end of Billy’s property–and an alligator posted there to guard the crop. Again, Bacon pleads ignorance.
A second body–that of the first victim’s best buddy–eventually turns up at another isolated property with another drug patch (this one guarded by a fierce snapping turtle).
Investigating the creek that runs through a mostly undeveloped area behind both properties, yet more marijuana turns up. Dan and company are faced with a puzzle with several missing pieces and an abundance of colorful suspects who have little use for the law or government authority. Of course, in the fullness of time Rhodes gets to the truth (which turns out even more complicated than it first seems). Along the way, we also have plenty of the less-serious/small-town infractions and petty hassles the department routinely deals with.
I won’t say this is a great book. Another flaw is how Crider tiptoes around the fact that the central town of Clearview is on its last legs economically and the desperation that must be causing. But it is an entertaining novel, a good bet for fans of modern-day cozies and a slightly whitewashed view of life in the rural stretches of the American southwest (if you consider Texas as being on the far eastern fringe of that area).