Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit | Links ]


by Reavis Z. Wortham
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2013
250 pages
ISBN: 146420148X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The strengths of Reavis Wortham's third volume in the Red River series include well-drawn small-town characters, a mostly believable 1965-66 historical setting, and a well-managed plot whose long strings are tied up at the end. In the novel, we meet Constable Ned Parker, his Bible-totin' Choctaw wife, Miss Becky, and their impish grandchildren, Top, who cusses a blue streak when out of range of her grandparents, and Pepper, who often slips some of his first-person commentary between lengths of third-person omniscient narration. We meet Deputy John Washington, whose African heritage means that he must eat in the "colored" section of the town café, although he sometimes drinks coffee with Ned and the local judge in the café's whites-only section. Through Washington's eyes, we are allowed a glimpse of how people might have lived creatively in a segregated society. A stranger, Tom Bell, nearly eighty years old, has appeared in town, claiming that he is redoing the cabin that he grew up in. When the nosey grandchildren peek at his things during one of his mysterious absences, they find a badge of the Texas Rangers among his things. As it turns out, he is in town keeping his eye on a couple of bad guys.

The townspeople eat mellorine from rectangular waxed cartons, they listen to radios that have vacuum tubes in them and are afraid that the Russians are coming. It isn't Russians who disrupt town life, however, but a pair of criminals that we today are quite familiar with: drug dealers from Mexico with some bales of marijuana on their hands. The criminals begin the work of unraveling the town's fabric: they have the gullible hide their bales of goods, sell to the elderly and ill, gull town youths into joining them in their more exciting-seeming lives, and hang out in the lawless no-man's land across the Red River, where the owners and frequenters of the juke joints operate as laws unto themselves. When the constable and his allies realize that the drug dealers have left for Mexico and another load of pot, they head down to Mexico for a final Texas-style showdown.

For those readers who like their bad guys bad, and their good guys good, Wortham's latest will fill the ticket. Viewing the 1960s through the lens of a murder mystery, and through Wortham's town characters who play funny practical jokes on one another and say that they would like to set a spell but then they will get up directly, is soothing, charming. The novel fulfills a desire many of us hold that we could have been engendered by those people, that somehow their humor and humane values might still spice our existences with their gentle flavors, that real badness is something not of our making, but a foreign manufacture.

§ Cathy Downs, Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is a longtime devotee of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, July 2013

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit | Links ]
[ Home ]