The story is narrated in first person present tense by Craddock who has been retired for many years. Because he is not currently in law enforcement, this technically fits in the amateur sleuth subgenre, but of course his experience and contacts help.
When I start reading a new mystery, I want to become immersed in the story and to get to know the characters involved. So my gauge of enjoyment of a mystery is based on how well a book does those things. Every author is different in how he or she tells the story, so the amount and type of engagement may differ, but if those two things happen for me, I am happy with the book. This book did meet my two biggest criteria for success. I was pulled into the story and I met a new group of characters who were intriguing. Some were likable, some were not, and some were irritating. For me it was not a perfect read, but close.
This story bears a good bit of resemblance to the Bill Crider mystery I read recently, Too Late to Die (published in 1986). Both are set in rural Texas, and the heroes are both recently widowed. The major difference is that Crider's protagonist is the county sheriff, and he has to keep his constituents happy. Bill Crider has good things to say about this novel:
Terry Shames does small-town Texas crime right, and A Killing at Cotton Hill is the real thing. It has humor, insight, and fine characters.I usually like a book with a faster pace. This book was slower and quieter. In my opinion, that fit the setting, rural Texas. Now I have not lived in or even visited small towns in Texas, but I have lived in the South, and in general I would say the pace is slower, or at least it seems that way. The book is not overly long (231 pages) and a lot of plot is packed in those pages.
A description of Cotton Hill:
Cotton Hill, where Dora Lee’s farm is located, is a tiny hamlet roughly halfway in between Jarrett Creek and the county seat, Bobtail. It’s high summer and the drive out to Cotton Hill is pretty, the alfalfa thick on the ground, the post oak trees still green from the wet June we had. And the cotton is just a few weeks from ready to pick. It’s a terrible crop for the land, sucking up all the nutrients and leaving it as depleted as if it had been strip-mined, but it makes a pretty sight as we cut down the county road to Dora Lee’s farm.One element in this story that made it more interesting for me was the protagonist's interest in modern art and how that fits into the story. Greg, Dora Lee's grandson, paints but she had never taken his ambitions in that area seriously. When Craddock walks into Greg's room he sees his paintings...
My wife, Jeanne, was crazy about modern art. She grew up in Fort Worth, where some of the best museums in Texas are located, and she was hooked on it. She dragged me to galleries with her, and it turned out I liked looking at art almost as much as she did. Before I met her, I liked pictures of bluebonnets and cactus, but she got me fired up about abstract painters.
So I have some knowledge of art, and I know the minute I walk into the room that I should have paid more attention to Dora Lee’s talk of the boy’s dreams. What is it that makes people think great artists have to come from somewhere else?The funny thing is that Greg doesn't take Craddock seriously until he sees his collection of modern art.
My one quibble with the book is the use of present tense. I don't enjoy stories told that way, and it occasionally threw me out of the story. I do plan to read the second book in the series, so the good points clearly outweigh this minor issue.
Other reviews with more detail:
Publisher: Seventh Street Books, 2013
Length: 231 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Series: Samuel Craddock #1
Source: I purchased my copy.