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THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN
by Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2014
250 pages
$15.95
ISBN: 1616148713


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Small town Jarrett Creek, Texas is its usual reasonably quiet self with the biggest thing going on being the week's high school football game and complaints about how badly the coach is messing up the team's chances. Retired police chief Sam Craddock has the additional worry about really needing to consult a big city doctor about his injured knee, the one that one of his cows stepped on some time back.

Down at Town Café, the waitress Lurleen asks Craddock to check on Jack Harbin because he hasn't come in at his usual time and he can't be reached. Harbin is a Gulf War vet who lost both a leg and his eyesight in a roadside attack and Lurleen has a developing relationship with him. When Craddock goes over to the Harbins' house, he finds Harbin spilled out of his wheelchair on the sidewalk and his father dead on the front lawn with neighbors coming out of their houses and one woman just screaming. Bob Harbin's death appears to be from a heart attack and CPR does not work. Now there will not only be a funeral to arrange but continuous care for Harbin as well.

The funeral draws all kinds of people together, many with former relationships to Harbin, primarily his long-ago best friend Woody Patterson and the girl they both loved, Harbin's fairly greedy estranged brother, and a gang of bikers who knew Harbin in the war. The sudden gathering brings up a variety of resentments and unresolved issues which all take on a terrible importance when Harbin is discovered brutally murdered in his bed.

The present-day police chief is a drunk with a political appointment and when he is taken away to undergo rehabilitation, the town elders come to Craddock to ask him to investigate the murder quietly and perhaps in spite of the investigation being mounted by the incompetent second-in-command. Craddock reluctantly agrees to help and we are privy to the inner workings of a kind and generous man whose years of experience have gained him both a perceptive mind and a stubborn ability to focus on the heart of the matter in the tangle of other people's priorities.

This second in the Samuel Craddock series maintains the quality of the first novel. Terry Shames has a keen appreciation for small town, rural Texas life and a solid ability to bring her characters to life. Both the setting and the people in it are exceptionally well drawn. In some ways the plot is a stretch and the resolution not as satisfying as it could have been, but I am definitely up for the third Craddock mystery when it appears.

§ Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, January 2014

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