A few weeks ago Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery (please check out Tracy's excellent website under blogs I follow) was reviewing Murder Most Fowl, book seven in Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery series. Now I am normally hesitant to check out a new series because I have too many books on my TBR list as it is. But I was intrigued by Tracy's review of Murder Most Fowl and so I decided to start with the first book in Bill Crider's Dan Rhodes mystery series, Too Late To Die (1986) and I found it to be a very enjoyable experience
Too Late To Die (1986) is set in Clearview, a small town within Blacklin County, TX. There is no serious crime in Clearview and the people who live there have known each other for years. Dan Rhodes is the Sheriff of Clearview. He has a small department consisting of his deputy, Johnny Sherman, the dispatcher, old Hack Jensen and Lawton the jailer who as the book describes him is almost as old as Hack Jensen.
Sheriff Dan Rhodes is running for reelection when Too Late To Die begins. He doesn't like the politics and the backslapping part of his job but he understands it comes with the territory. Sheriff Rhodes' wife Claire passed away a year back and he misses her very much. He has a grown daughter named Cathy who he has a good relationship with. Sheriff Rhodes is smart and thoughtful. He doesn't throw his weight around but when trouble arrives he will meet it courageously.
And trouble arrives when a local woman Jeanne Clinton who everyone in Clearview knew and liked is found murdered in her home. Jeanne in her younger days was rather wild but a few years back she married her husband Elmer Clinton who is 30 years her senior. Despite the age difference it seems to have been a good marriage. But then Jeanne turns up dead and it turns out that while Elmer was at work a number of men in the neighborhood would drop by Jeanne's house for coffee. Was it just coffee and talk or something more? DId one of these men get rebuffed and murder Jeanne or did her husband Elmer find out and in a fit of jealousy lose control?
On paper Too Late To Die may sound like an average small town mystery novel with a conventional plot and a good-hearted Sheriff trying to solve the case. But Too Late To Die won the prestigious Anthony Award in 1987 for best first novel and what set the book apart for me was the writing. Bill Crider has a very nice writing style. I enjoyed the humor that is delicately placed throughout the book. I enjoyed descriptions of Clearview and its people. Bill Crider spends his time on local color and customs and it pays off. I never knew for example how popular Dr. Pepper is in Texas and very refreshing in the hot climate of Clearview. And most important there is Sheriff Dan Rhodes who is interesting, smart, a good man and I see myself following him at least into book two of this series.