by Sandra Murphy
We are excited this week to have a review of the latest mystery by Bill Crider, and an interesting interview with Bill. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Dead to Begin With. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Dead to Begin With: Sheriff Dan Rhodes series by Bill Crider
Review by Sandra Murphy
Jake Marley has been a recluse for as long as anybody can remember. His sister was killed in a car accident when he was just a kid. After that, things were never the same. He has a lot of money but no friends or family. The townspeople of Clearview, Texas are more than surprised when Jake buys the old Opera House with plans to open a theater. Like Jake, the Opera House has been left to its own devices for far too long. A lot of repairs are in order.
Before plans can really get under way, Jake’s body is found at the Opera House. It looks like he had been up on the grid, about two stories up, where the stage lights are. Although it looks like an accidental fall, Sheriff Dan Rhodes decides to treat it as a crime scene, just in case.
Aubrey, Jake’s realtor, found the body. The EMTs were there, Deputy Ruth, the justice of the peace and Jennifer Loam, local newsie reporting for her site, A Clear View of Clearview, all pretty much obliterating possible clues. And that was before Seepy Benton and his ghost hunting sidekick, Harry Harris showed up.
Seepy is sure there are ghosts in the building. Sudden cold, a light bulb that never burned out, unexplained noises, all are proof in his mind.
If that’s not enough excitement for a small town, Elaine Tunstall is off her meds. She recently got her hair cut in a bob and now has decided she doesn’t like it. To express her displeasure, she’s headed for the beauty shop, a sledgehammer in hand. Once that’s all taken care of, Rhodes has a surprise visit from two women who write the Sage Barton books, supposedly based on Rhodes exciting life. He thinks not. This time they’ve decided Sage needs a sex life and have come to Clearview to interview Rhodes about just how much free time a Sheriff might have for such activities. Add in a fight at a yard sale and Rhodes is crime fighting busy.
Jake had ideas for the first play to be based on A Christmas Carol. He had specified who should act which part, who should write the play and he required Rhodes to be there too. No one can figure out why. The “actors” hadn’t seen him since high school. As usual, life in a small town is anything but boring.
Rhodes’ dogs, Yancey and Speedo are back as well as the cats who mostly sleep. They ignore Yancey who is alternately playful and afraid of them. The highlight for Rhodes is Dr. Pepper is using real sugar again to make the soda. His boycott of the substitute might not have been noticed—but the results are what he wanted.
In his usual way of asking questions, deciding who’s lying, following up on slim clues and thinking things out until all the pieces come together, Rhodes solves more puzzles than the murder.
This is the twenty-fourth book in the series with more to come. A relaxed story, full of humor, with recognizable small town antics, Crider delivers another fine mystery. A prolific writer, he has several other mystery series, a collection of short stories about Sherlock Holmes (Eight Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) as well as westerns and children’s books. Jump in anywhere-good reads are ahead.
Interview with author Bill Crider:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Bill: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. In high school and afterward I wrote a lot of poetry, although I recall a couple of short stories I wrote during that time. Long lost now, which is a good thing. In the 1970s I wrote a lot of articles and reviews for fanzines. In 1980 a friend suggested that we collaborate on a novel for the Nick Carter series. We wrote one called The Coyote Connection, which was published in 1981. That was the real beginning of my writing career.
KRL: Can you tell us a little about your first novel?
Bill: If you don’t count The Coyote Connection, my first book under my own name was “Too Late to Die” from Walker in 1986. That’s the first book in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. The sheriff is still around in my current book, Dead, to Begin With.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries or suspense?
Bill: I’ve written just about everything. I’ve published a lot of westerns under my own name and other names, the most popular being “Outrage at Blanco.” I’ve written horror under the name Jack MacLane. I’ve written books for young readers, my favorite being “A Vampire Named Fred.” I’ve written a bit of science fiction, and I won the Sidewise Award for a short SF story titled “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please share a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Bill: Sheriff Dan Rhodes is the character in my most recent book, Dead, to Begin With. As mentioned above, he’s been around since 1986. I really have no idea how I came up with him. I wanted to write about small-town Texas, and so I figured a sheriff would be a good point of view character for something like that. Dan Rhodes was the result, and he’s been solving crimes in Texas small towns ever since. There’s always a murder in the books, but there are a lot of other crimes as well. I think of the series as being as much about the setting as it is about the plot. People are always telling me they recognize their town in the books, but in reality the town and county are all products of my imagination—I make it all up.
KRL: Do you put in current news deliberately? What about the animals like the alligator guarding the pot plants in a recent book? Is it all just local color?
Bill: I love putting in stuff from current news items. The alligator and snapping turtle are the real thing. There are stories nearly every month about alligators guarding marijuana operations, mostly indoor ones.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Bill: I write to entertain first and foremost, but I like to think there’s always something else there in the books if people want to look for it. Robert Frost once said, “‘There’s always something else in my poetry.’ … ‘I’m always saying something that’s just the edge of something more.’” Not that I’m comparing myself to Frost, but I’ve remembered that comment for many years, and I like to think my books are a bit like that.
KRL: Do you have a writing schedule or just write whenever you can? If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Bill: When I started writing, I had a full-time teaching job and had to write in the evenings. I wrote every evening and wrote a certain number of pages, depending on my deadlines. Now that I’ve retired from teaching, I find that writing in the evening still works best for me. I’ve missed a lot of TV, but that hasn’t bothered me. So far, the evening has been ideal for me. I’ve been doing it for so long that I can’t think of a better time.
KRL: Do you outline or do you have other interesting ways that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Bill: I don’t outline unless the publisher requires it. I do a short synopsis, and that’s all. I don’t have any idea how I keep track of things. When I started writing, I thought you just told a story. I didn’t know you had to plan it. When I was I college, I often studied in a room in the library that had huge beams in the ceiling, and there were quotations from books painted no the beams. One of them was from Alice in Wonderland: “’Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’” That’s always been my approach to writing.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Bill: I prefer to make things up, but I do research on things I can’t fake. The internet is a blessing in that respect. Much faster than looking in reference books that I might have or trips to the library.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning? Any great rejection or critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Bill: I was one of the lucky ones whose first book was published. It was the Nick Carter book mentioned. I thought I was off and running and figured I’d be writing Nick Carter books for years to come, but the editor for the series changed, and the new editor had no interest in my ideas for more books. So that was the end of that. I didn’t try to publish anything else until several years later, and the first Sheriff Dan Rhodes book was bought by the second editor who looked at it. After that I didn’t get a lot of rejections.
The first acceptance is always the best, I think. I can’t begin to describe the elation I felt when that Nick Carter book was bought. Since it was a collaboration, I split the payment with my friend and used my half of the dough to buy my first VCR. Now hardly anybody knows what a VCR is, much less how expensive they once were.
KRL: Can you share an interesting book signing story—in a bookstore or other venue?
Bill: During a convention in Omaha, I was taken to a mall bookstore for a signing. It was an interesting experience. After I’d been there for about an hour without signing a single book, a woman came to the table, picked up a book, and said she was going to buy it because she felt sorry for me. I figured that a sale is a sale. Right after she left, a man came over and started telling me a story about his life that he thought I should write. It seems he was in the witness protection program because he’d been caught sleeping with the wife of a mafia don and had turned informant so the Feds would protect him. He even showed me a photo of the don’s wife. He didn’t buy a book, though.
KRL: Do you have any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Bill: Nothing new. Read, write (have a time and a place for it), and don’t give up.
KRL: Do you have any writing heroes?
Bill: Far too many to list, but a starter list would include Mark Twain, J. D. Salinger, Robert Heinlein, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald.
KRL: What do you read? Do you have any favorite TV or movies?
Bill: I read a lot of crime fiction, and a considerable part of it is older stuff. I love the good old stuff. I also read some science fiction and nonfiction.
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’ve enjoyed Fargo all three seasons. I watch mostly old movies these days. Some of my favorites are Casablanca, The Big Sleep (the one with Bogart), Rio Bravo, and the list goes on and on.
KRL: Can you share any future writing goals?
Bill: My goals are modest: Finish the book I’m working on, another Sheriff Rhodes novel, That Old Scoundrel Death.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Bill: Probably most people don’t know just how many westerns I’ve written under various names, including adult westerns in a now-defunct series. I don’t keep count, so even I don’t know how many of those there are.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Bill: Nope. We’ve covered a lot of ground. Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview.
KRL: Where can fans find or follow you on social media sites?
To enter to win a copy of Dead to Begin With, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “begin,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 30, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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