Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Texas Twosome

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.

Despite the fact that the police are called, it is appropriate to assume that this death was a natural one and, although Jocelyn is deeply saddened, the pressing issues of the first day of school is upon them. Aside from her own classes, she is expected to help her look-alike cousin Kyla teach a course to girls about technology as part of a community service program. It doesn’t take long for it to become clear that this death is really a murder. Before the day is out, Jocelyn finds that she is also the new interim tennis coach.

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.

This is a lively, fast-paced story with an excellent cast of characters. The setting is a bit unlike high school as I knew it, but hey, the times they do change. It may help that I read it at this time of year, but I felt the sweltering Texas ambience like I was there. The characters have developing nice backgrounds which were introduced in the first of the series, Death on Tour.

Note: I received a free review copy of Death Makes the Cut, published by St. Martin's Press on July 17, 2012.

I would like to mention another book that recently caught my eye because it was billed as a Sugar Land mystery. I visited there not too long ago and was fascinated by the name. Sugar Land began as a sugar plantation and is the home of the large Imperial Sugar refinery. Sugar Land is a rapidly growing city just outside Houston. It is listed frequently as one of the safest and best cities in the USA to live in. Of course, there is always trouble in paradise.

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.

The smooth path of his days is disturbed when lawyer Graham Garcia is found Big Berthaed to death by a blow to the head at a local golf course. The problem for the police is that it happened in the dead of night, so it was not an accident, and the problem for Bear is that it involves members of his church. The more Bear finds out about the case, the more he realizes that his family members are mixed up in the ragout in some way as well.

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.


  1. Don't forget to add Robert Fate's Baby Shark to your Texas TBR pile!

  2. Bonnie,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I have taken it!