by Terrance Mc Arthur
This week we have reviews of two books by the new publishing company owned by Lee Goldberg, Brash Books. Both are reprints from some the 80s and 90s-Blanch on the Lam by Barbara Neely & Outrage at Blanco by Bill Crider. Details at the end of this post on how to win copies of both, along with links to purchase them.
Blanch on the Lam By Barbara Neely
Review by Terrance Mc Arthur
Sometimes, a mystery series has been around for a while, and you just haven’t tried it. That’s when a series re-release can come in handy, with a wide re-publishing of a first book that might have had a smaller printing the first time around.
Barbara Neely’s Blanche White series started with Blanche on the Lam in 1992, and now it’s returning to the shelves. Blanche is African-American, works as a household servant, and trying to raise her late sister’s children back in the Carolinas, after time in New York. Because her white employers didn’t pay her, she is convicted for writing bad checks. When she is forgotten in the courthouse, she takes off…and walks into a household that needs her cooking and cleaning skills, but may not want her detecting abilities. There’s a rich aunt upstairs, a woman with a too-handsome-to-be-good-or-true husband, a special-needs relative who is kind, gentle, an automotive wizard (He really is an excellent driver), and understands a lot more than people understand, but he has trouble expressing it in a form others can comprehend.
Blanche doesn’t like her life of accepting the crumbs from the tables of white families, and she has no desire to be a mothering mammy figure. She has responsibilities, because she inherited custody of her sister’s two children, and her mother keeps threatening to take control of the kids from her. Blanche does maid and cook work because it pays, but she hates being in the South and longs to go back to the North, where there is still racism, but she has more choices.
Blanche is blunt, can be mean and makes snap judgments. Nevertheless, her nose for evil leads her to the root of what is wrong in the house and the family. She harnesses the back-door network of her community’s knowledge of all the things going on in town that nobody is supposed to know. Blanche on the Lam will cause delightful recognition for some readers, and uncomfortable recognition for others. It’s an intriguing look at a way of life and a culture that may be unfamiliar and will build interest in the series.
Outrage at Blanco By Bill Crider
Review by Sandra Murphy
Ben and Jink have been friends/partners/thieves/killers for a long time. They shoot people just because they can. Rob them too. The women, they rape and then kill. There’s not much of a thought process involved, especially with Jink. “You have it, we want it, you’re in my way, you’re dead” seems to be all his mind is capable of–if that.
The book starts with each of the men raping Ellie Taine who was on her way home from town. Ellie is a fighter though. Ben has to use force to subdue her. Jink just knocks her head on the buckboard’s floor to take the fight out of her. He was already pretty mad that she had canned goods on board but nothing to open them with. He had to use his own knife and cut himself. It sure didn’t help matters when Ellie bit him on his hurt finger.
Jink is all for killing her after but Ben thinks they’re too close to town and besides, they have to meet up with O’Grady to plan the big job that will make them all rich. They’d met O’Grady in Mexico and heard about a little bank that had a lot of cash on hand. The “You’ve got it, we want it” attitude kicked in and here they were in Blanco to relieve the bank of that cash.
Jonathan Crossland is the reason the bank’s been full of money over the years. It’s rumored that he keeps over $100,000 there, just to have it close at hand. His son Gerald hasn’t been much of a son or much of a worker. He’d rather smoke his cigars, sit back and enjoy life, than to worry about manual labor. His idea of life is hired servants to do all the menial jobs. He can wait though–the old man has to die sometime and it looks to be sooner rather than later.
Jonathan’s illness has gotten worse, a lot worse. There are days when it hurts to draw a breath. He barely sleeps anymore but finds it’s a lot easier to keep his eyes closed and let Gerald think he’s asleep than to listen to his son. Gerald was surprised and outraged when Jonathan revealed he’d changed his will. The money is to go to an out of state orphanage. Gerald will inherit the ranch, a sizeable place, but he’ll have to work to keep it.
A chance meeting between Gerald and O’Grady seals the deal. Gerald will create a diversion, O’Grady, Ben and Jink will rob the bank and soon all four of them will be enjoying the high life with the loot split four ways. Of course, O’Grady has a backup plan. He, Ben and Jink will just ride out of town with the money and disappear while Gerald creates an alibi at the ranch.
O’Grady’s a likeable thief. Too bad he paired up with Ben and Jink because when Ellie’s husband found out about the rapes, he rode into town to find the men who did it. Jink’s lack of control causes him to shoot Burt before Burt can even draw his gun or say why he’s there. To make matters worse, there’s a lot less money in the bank’s safe than Gerald led the men to believe.
When Ellie’s notified of Burt’s death, she’s determined to get even for the rapes and his murder. Rumors give her the first clue to go to Crossland’s ranch. Lucky for her, she gets there after the Sheriff and a big blow up among thieves, but unlucky for the Sheriff and Gerald though. She meets Jonathan who’s experiencing end of life euphoria. He’s able to get up and dressed and for the first time in months, has an appetite. He and Ellie make the most unlikely pair to track and capture the trio of thieves and killers.
Along the way, Ellie’s desire for revenge lessens but her desire for justice does not. Jonathan is able to have a few more days when he can feel alive and useful. Their journey isn’t just along the trail but within themselves as well.
For fans of Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery series, this Western is much darker and more brutal than anything Sheriff Dan has to deal with. It’s a good read though, action packed, with a sense of urgency due to Jonathan’s illness. The characters are not black and white, good and evil but complex people, except maybe for Jink. To know how Ellie gets along after the dust settles, read Texas Vigilante.
Bill Crider has written enough books to keep readers busy and happy for months. Clear a shelf or two, Crider’s books are keepers.
To enter to win a copy of both books from Brash, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Brash,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 13, 2014. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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