Book Review | “A Killing at Cotton Hill” (Book No.1 of the Samuel Craddock Mysteries) by Terry Shames

Posted Wednesday, 7 February, 2018 by jorielov , , , , 0 Comments

Book Review badge created by Jorie in Canva using photography (Creative Commons Zero).

Borrowed Book By: I am a reviewer for Prometheus Books and their imprints starting in [2016] as I contacted them through their Edelweiss catalogues and Twitter. I appreciated the diversity of titles across genre and literary explorations – especially focusing on Historical Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Scientific Topics in Non-Fiction.

I was happily surprised finding “A Reckoning in the Backcountry” arriving by Post; as this is one title I hadn’t remembered requesting. I tried to back-track if I had requested it but never could sort out if this was one title the publisher felt I might enjoy as I read quite a few of their Mystery authors or if I simply had forgotten one of my requests. Either way, I decided to sort out which installment this was in the sequence – finding the series has five titles previously released. Unfortunately, my local library didn’t have a copy of any of them thereby giving me the chance to seek them through inter-library loan. As I pulled together the synopsis of each of the novels, I uncovered a pattern of interest threading through three of them which seemed to speak to the greater whole of the series: A Killing at Cotton Hill (Book One); Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek (Book Three) and The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake (Book Five). I knew I wouldn’t have time to borrow all five and felt by moving in and out of the sequential order with these three I could have a proper overview of the series before moving into the sixth release “A Reckoning in the Backcountry”.

I borrowed the first novel in the Samuel Craddock series “A Killing at Cotton Hill” in trade paperback from my local library via inter-library loan through the consortium of libraries within my state. I was not obligated to post a review as I am doing so for my own edification as a reader who loves to share her readerly life. I was not compensated for my thoughts shared herein.

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on settling into a new series:

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as I felt like this series sort of landed in my lap so to speak – the titles of the series held a certain layer of pause to contemplate as did the premises within them. I do have a hankering of reading a wicked good detective novel every so often, but I have the tendency of setting the bar quite high. I blame this on my affection for Crime Dramas I’ve watched on television – when you have Det. Bobby Goren, Jesse Stone, Special Agent Gibbs, Miss Fisher, Rizzoli and Isles plus the motley crew of other infamous detectives stateside to Canada and the UK – you garnish a particular attention to what drives a certain kind of suspenseful narrative into your heart.

As soon as I picked up the novel though, as I was starting to settle into the pace and flow of Ms Shames style of narrative – I noticed a few things. Craddock has an ease about him reminiscent of Jesse Stone but without the anguish and her narrative voice in regards to placing you wholly inside her setting had me hungering for the next Marjorie Trumaine Mystery – as the two series have a cadence of similarity for how they are easily able to be stepped inside for the first time!

The kind of series you will linger over and happily re-visit each time a new installment brings you back to centre with the characters. In essence, rather than feeling a bit out of depth to tackle a new series and becoming acquainted with everyone therein – I almost felt as if this might be a homecoming – as if I had been here previously; a credit to Ms Shames for giving us an approachable character such as Craddock to feel comfortable in this setting.

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Book Review | “A Killing at Cotton Hill” (Book No.1 of the Samuel Craddock Mysteries) by Terry ShamesA Killing at Cotton Hill
Subtitle: A Samuel Craddock Mystery

In this award-winning debut mystery novel, the chief of police of a small town is also an unreliable drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have had it in for Dora Lee—the conniving rascals on the farm next door, her estranged daughter, and her live-in grandson. And then there’s that stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. As Craddock digs to find the identity of the killer, the human foibles of Jarrett Creek’s residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are also revealed.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

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ISBN: 9781616147990

on 16th July, 2013

Pages: 235

Published By: Seventh Street Books (@SeventhStBooks)

Available Formats: Trade Paperback and Ebook

About Terry Shames

Terry Shames Photo Credit: Margaretta K. Mitchell

Terry Shames is the Macavity Award-winning author of the Samuel Craddock mysteries A Killing at Cotton Hill, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, and A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge. She is also the coeditor of Fire in the Hills, a book of stories, poems, and photographs about the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. She grew up in Texas and continues to be fascinated by the convoluted loyalties and betrayals of the small town where her grandfather was the mayor. Terry is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Photo Credit: Margaretta K. Mitchell

The Samuel Craddock Mysteries:

Series Overview: The well-respected, retired police chief of a small Texas town is called upon to solve crimes that the current chief is unwilling or unable to solve.

An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock | Prequel | Synopsis

→ I hadn’t realised this series had a prequel when I first went to gather my ILLs from the library; therefore I missed getting the chance to read the prequel ahead of ‘Cotton Hill’.

A Killing at Cotton Hill | Book One

The Last Death of Jack Harbin | Book Two | Synopsis

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek | Book Three | Synopsis

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge | Book Four | Synopsis

The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake | Book Five | Synopsis

A Reckoning in the Backcountry | Book Six | Synopsis

Converse via: #SamuelCraddock + #Mysteries

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my review of a killing at cotton hill:

Craddock has a way of enticing you into his world – he has a no-nonsense approach to engaging you into his hours. We meet him on the unsuspecting day where he learns a dear friend has been killed – taken down in her prime whilst her grandson, a budding artist is left behind. The grandson thankfully has Craddock on his side – as it’s revealled the current Chief isn’t as keen on facts as much as he is closed cases. Craddock himself is retired but he still cares about the people he used to watch over and he has a method of solving crimes which has more to do with the truth than the ability to take the easy way out of investigating something further which might lead into murky waters. At least this is the impression your sensing as Craddock walks through his friend’s house upon arriving shortly after her body was found – the despair he feels and the remorse he has for not being able to help her when she needed him most is what eats away at him.

As we start to dip further into the circumstances, we find a kind man who doesn’t quite enjoy the attention of having all the single ladies hovering over him like bees seeking a new hive. He’s a widower who likes his life just the way it is but he can’t help thinking that once you’ve loved and lost your wife, others take this as a clue your ready for the next chapter to begin. For Craddock, he’d rather keep the pace going he’s set-up now – of watching over his cows, appreciating his retirement and the social life he’s garnered to put together since Jeanne (his wife) passed on. Something tells me though – he has more to give than he realises as he cares more about the people than the the current Chief. Not that the current Chief isn’t without his own demons to wrestle through as he has an addiction to alcohol which takes his attention away from what should be more important: solving crimes.

Craddock finds himself moving in and out of his memories as he takes the task of going through Dora Lee’s house – he wants to see if anything in her papers or other belongings might clue him into what was causing her the most concern of all: the fear of being watched by person’s unknown. He has a unique connection with the local lawyer, a woman who’d rather share access to water for her horses whereas he currently only lets his cows have the privilege. Craddock is quirky in this way, as he is firmly set to mind certain things he likes to keep a certain way but in other regards, he impresses you. Such as his wife and his appreciation for modern art and how they curated their own private collection over the years.

Dora Lee’s grandson doesn’t seem to have much of a reason to wish his grandmother harm but I appreciated how Craddock puts his personal thoughts and feelings aside in order to carry out an investigation. As he was right in thinking just because you have a particular impression about someone doesn’t mean they can’t surprise you and do something out of the ordinary. Yet, the weight of Dora Lee’s death is a burden on his shoulders; he feels partially responsible and the ache of uncertainty of not having taken a more active interest in Dora Lee’s concerns is what was truly fusing him to his need to solve this mystery.

Part of what Craddock reflects upon as he’s pulling out the threads of Dora Lee’s life and relations is that he could have had a sedate life similar to one of her relatives; where his world was his home without too much past the grass outside it. He credited part of his expanding world to the military service he did with the Air Force but more importantly, the years he had with his wife which fulfilled him more than he thought would be possible. It speaks to why he feels a bit lost and out of touch now that she isn’t with him. He hasn’t given up on living but when you lose the person you love to walk through life with together it takes time to re-adjust.

I finally put my finger on what I like about Craddock the most: his dry sense of humour! It never fails to tickle me into a smile – whenever someone says something a bit ‘off’, he counters it by keeping the scene grounded in the seriousness of the circumstances. He also has an uncanny way of observing people – of seeing things they might not want to know are being observed but more to the point, it’s his unorthodox way of looking at them, seeing them as they are which points to reason why he was a good Chief. He has an eye and knack for this business far better than the current one who you had the feeling was only in the position due to the familial person who put him in charge.

Loretta is quite the hoot of a character – she is so smitten with Craddock but she doesn’t exactly notice he’s not entirely convinced he wants to be round her full-time. She fills in the gap between being completely alone and having a friend who cares about you yet it’s quite easy to see she’d rather their partnership be more secured than causal acquaintance. Still, despite their pages being on opposite ends of the book – she comes in handy when he needs someone next to him who can help him deal with their neighbours. The irony is they make a good team.

It hadn’t surprised me Craddock had worked in the oil and gas industry – as Texas is one of the states who has a lot of claims for that industry to take over their lands. What was interesting though was how his knowledge about the field allowed him to better understand the worth of land in Jarrett County – something which would come in handy whilst he was investigating Dora Lee’s death. One thing I felt was quite maddening but he took it in stride is how the current Chief was so out of his head on alcohol he could barely keep his mind focused long enough to hold a conversation. Meanwhile, the relatives are starting to emerge out of the cottonwood, the first time they smelt they might inherit something they were more concerned about having Craddock at Dora Lee’s farm. Strange how they worried over his presence when the one thing on his mind to accomplish was finding what happened to her that fateful day.

One of the things I admire most about Craddock is he’s honest and he doesn’t apologise for his thoughts, beliefs or how he approaches how he wants to live his life. There is a moment at Dora Lee’s funeral where he makes the mental note about how despite being non-religious he worked out things with his late wife just fine; as they had an accord of agreement about such things. Despite this, he preferred to have a chance to see someone after they passed as a way of finding closure without the spirituality attached to the process. He’s simply a humble man who recognises his gift to give the world is to stand on the side of law and justice. He can’t let something go without first making sure it was given its due whilst realising not everything in life is going to make sense once you know the right side of it.

Loretta and Craddock work off each other like two partners who have a telepathic link between them: each knowing when to speak and when to stay silent. It works well when they are in the company of those who are not the chattiest of people, such as when they first met Caroline – Dora Lee’s daughter. Those quiet signals between them is a classic sign they each are on the same page of their thoughts but without a way to move forward to gain more information which seems to be lessening in girth each time they go about trying to uncover more. You have to smile knowing Craddock isn’t keen on cooking not as much as he’s happy if Loretta will bake and cook something they can all enjoy together. You have to give it to him – he’s uncertain if he can commit to Loretta but at the same time, he’s sorry if she’s amiss or unavailable to be present!

Interestingly, the men in Jarrett Creek aren’t exactly worth their salt (at least the few we’ve met thus far) but the women on the other hand not only have fierce strength and a cunning personality to make it in fields where men usually gain more traction than a woman, they are the ones who held my eye most because of they way Craddock respects them. Even the lawyer he wasn’t too sure would be willing to help him became a winning connection in the end (Jenny) as she had one thing in common with Craddock: they both liked to pursue justice and make sure justice is served.

I oft wondered how Texas might classify the three cities: Austin, Houston and San Antonio as from an outside perspective I was happily surprised I wasn’t too far off the mark! From what is disclosed in the story though what did surprise me is I’d prefer Houston over the other two as I’ve had family who’ve visited Houston in the past and it was never quite on my list of cities I’d felt keen to go myself. Interestingly enough, I was in Houston too, except not directly – I had a layover to Mexico at the airport wherein I had a lovely conversation with two ladies from Dallas who had some trivia about the filming of Walker, Texas Ranger as well as cluing me into how the metroplex had more weather than fiery hot Summers and tornado seasons. That is one thing about Texas, the state is large enough to where each section of the state has its own unique character and personality. Jarrett County apparently is situated within a close proxy of the three cities but with a depressed economy which makes the livability of the area harder to swallow for those who took up residence in a rural hamlet.

Right when I thought I had a line on who could have been behind Dora Lee’s death, Ms Shames took me for a loop and added in a thread of mischief! Mischief in this case which could have wrecked the joys of art for Craddock which he passionately shared with his wife Jeanne. Your emotions get to you over watching Craddock deal with the shock and the alarming sensation that he’s either close on the heels of who caused the death or someone has a bone to catch with him; perhaps even someone who needed something he had on hand. Either way you slice it, Craddock’s emotions were put to the test and how blessed he was for having Jenny and Loretta an arm’s throw away to help him.

I love stories set in small townes like this one – there is just something alluring about them. I hadn’t known this would have such a wonderful thread of art inside the suspenseful bits either. The fuller back-story which led to Dora Lee’s demise was quite a sad affair but watching Craddock noodle out the issues facing each of his neighbours and the family of Dora Lee was smartly conceived by Ms Shames. She keeps your attention firmly attuned to Craddock; he’s the kind of fellow you hope to have in your own towne if perchance your own Chief isn’t up to the job. He has a kind heart but what wins you over the most is his attitude for striking out the truth from the shadows which try to erase the evidence of what really goes on in people’s lives. This is a dramatic crime novel wherein you get a close portrait of what motivates the characters but also, how the setting in a rural area of Texas has more secrets to ferret out than they have cows to tend in the fields!

On the suspenseful styling of terry shames:

Straight off the bat, I smiled realising how the series was meant to unfold – the quirky titles for the series are actually a homage to the setting – Cotton Hill, Jarrett Creek and Bobtail are actual ‘places’ within the series itself. I liked how she approached crafting the series together – it reminds me of why I love Southern Lit and being this is set in Texas it does have quite the Southern appeal to how it’s being conveyed. There is the laid-back feel of how time and hours are not generally clicking off the clock at high speed but rather, there are idle hours where a person can appreciate what their doing without feeling the pressure of a deadline. It is here we alight inside the #SamuelCraddock Mysteries – partially reminding me of how I felt when I saw my first Father Brown episode – as this is a small towne where everyone knows everyone else but with an unease about how the sense of safety and security can become shattered overnight by ominous events.

Ms Shames entreats us to pull close to her lead character, Craddock as he regales us with his knowledge and his ability to see past what others are overlooking. He has a keen mind and retirement hasn’t dulled his sense of justice. In this way, he is a winsome character as he’s just a bit unexpected (like Father Brown) but with a genuinely earnest nature to do right no matter what the cost; the kind of character you can rally behind simply because he takes the duties of his job seriously even if he’s not officially in the same capacity to investigate as he had been previously.

I liked how this story evolves forward at a slower pace – similar to the Marjorie Trumaine Mysteries I love so much – whilst recognising this, I can see why the publisher was inclined to think this would be a good match for me! Both authors share a joy of giving us nuanced information about their settings of choice – of tucking into the folds of ordinary days and the slow ache of shifting through the bits and bobbles of clues which cannot be coaxed out easily from whatever is left behind. Either in tangible evidence in the person’s residence or in the living memories of those who knew her best.

I can see I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next novel in sequence – I might even fancy borrowing the three novels I hadn’t been able to this year when the seventh novel releases! It will be my own quirky tradition of celebrating the series! For now, I’m wicked thankful I’ve had the proper chance to ‘meet’ Craddock and settle into his life! You truly do disappear into Jarrett County, walking beside him and watching how he puts all the pieces together. He’s an interesting character with an artistic hobby and an unwavering admiration for the wife he lost too soon. What makes him inspiring to read is how he refuses to give up living and finds new purpose in his retirement. I truly appreciated how Ms Shames wrote this series and how she’s giving us a new dramatic series to love reading!

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!

Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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{SOURCES: Cover art of “A Killing at Cotton Hill”, “The Last Death of Jack Harbin”, “Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek”, “A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge”, “The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake” and “A Reckoning in the Backcountry” along with the series synopsis, novel synopsis, author biography and the author photograph of Terry Shames were provided by the publisher Seventh Street Press (via Prometheus Books) and used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Book Review Banner using (Creative Commons Zero) Photography by Frank McKenna and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2018.

I’m a social reader | I love sharing my reading life
This first tweet I shared is the start of a ‘micro-blog’ on Twitter where I continued to share my readerly thoughts as I was reading about Cotton Hill! Be sure to click this tweet to see all the other tweets which are threading beneath it and watch my journey!

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Wednesday, 7 February, 2018 by jorielov in #JorieLovesIndies, 20th Century, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Book Review (non-blog tour), Crime Fiction, Debut Novel, Detective Fiction, Grief & Anguish of Guilt, Prometheus Books, Small Towne USA, Texas, Vulgarity in Literature

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