One way of passing the time on road trips when we were kids was to have games naming the capitals of the states. A little bit of trivia was always helpful in remembering these names or even some little memory trick––don't "ju know"––might help with the capital of Alaska. Knowing a bit about Stephen Austin, who wasn't Jane's transatlantic cousin, but was the father of Texas, always helped me when it came to the Lone Star state. Reading a mystery that takes place in Austin brought back some memories for me.
Janice Hamrick's Death Makes the Cut begins on the last day of summer vacation, when history teacher Jocelyn Shore is busy getting her classroom in order awaiting the onslaught of the more than 2000 Texas teenagers who will be saying goodbye to a hot steamy summer and beginning a new school year. Jocelyn hears the loud voices of what appears to be an abusive confrontation between Fred Argus, fellow teacher as well as the tennis coach, and a typical unrealistic parent who thinks his freshman son should be team captain (really?), and she rushes in where others fear to tread, confronting this angry, blustering man as if he might be an errant schoolboy himself. This approach is effective, and the situation is resolved, but aptly-named Fred Argus is not behaving in his usual manner, and he leaves for home.
The next time Jocelyn sees Fred is on the floor of the tennis shed, surrounded by tennis balls and lying with his milky white eyes blankly open. Fred was on older man in his sixties, who was a teacher as a second career. Despite being a coach, he was known for his spindly white legs and his two-pack-a-day smoking habit. Jocelyn knew him to be an excellent teacher, and she credited him with teaching her more than she learned in all her formal years of education about how to impart knowledge to the teenage mind.
But Jocelyn is not too busy to realize that Fred had been on the trail of some wrongdoing and, as she begins to investigate, she puts herself in danger. The clues are there for the reader to join in the hunt for the murderer. He will murder again before he is through.
Note: I received a free review copy of Death Makes the Cut, published by St. Martin's Press on July 17, 2012.
The mystery is Faithful Unto Death, by Stephanie Jaye Evans.
The story revolves around Walker Wells, better known as Bear, because he once played college football, and perhaps because of his physique. Bear is a minister at a church in Sugar Land. Bear is a man of God, but he is very much a man of family and a Texan.
Bear may resort to prayer before he loses his control, but he still is quite human in his emotions as he tries to do his best as a husband and father. That he has complete blinkers on when it comes to seeing his family as they really are, is a surprise. He needs a little self-examination at times, but don't we all. He has insight where others are concerned, though, as well as all the compassion and empathy needed for his flock. His slightly snarky, sarcastic sense of humor which is kept to himself for the most part, makes him an endearing character.
The character I found most intriguing, though, was the detective assigned to the case, James Wanderly. Author Evans kept an interesting dynamic going between this young man and the minister, and his future relationship with Bear ought to be interesting. I hope there is one.
Faithful Unto Death was published by Berkley Trade on June 5, 2012.