First off, full disclosure: Terry Shames is an old friend. To counter that, however, I want to say that I'm not a big fan of mysteries and don't generFirst off, full disclosure: Terry Shames is an old friend. To counter that, however, I want to say that I'm not a big fan of mysteries and don't generally seek out the genre--so the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel is remarkable.
This is the foundation novel in a coming series. It's written in present-tense first-person POV, and the gentle, wry voice is that of Samuel Craddock, a graying small town Texas widower who is also a former chief of police. Just one chapter in, I began to see him as a sort of older James Garner of The Rockford Files. Craddock's not quite so comic, but his touch is light and his speculative, easy-going manner is much the same. As he goes around town figuring out who killed his old friend Dora Lee, his past is gradually revealed (though not all of it) and he becomes a man I'd like to know: real and likable and restful to be around. His wife, Jeanne, has recently died, and through his reminiscences of her, I feel sure I'd like to know her too. In fact, I'm hoping that the part of Samuel's past that Terry hasn't revealed will be the makings of a future book, a prequel. Then I can meet Jeanne.
A future romance for Samuel is just barely hinted at--with a subtlety I appreciate--and the woman of note, a local lawyer named Jenny, would make a great partner in Samuel's future cases. Samuel's friend Loretta, is a ridiculous old busy-body at the beginning of the book, but she has her charms and talents--of which tolerance for other women in Samuel's life is not one. The town of Jarrett Creek, Texas, where Samuel lives, is the other main character, and it draws me too. I can see it in my mind's eye and nearly walk its dusty streets.
This is not a fast-paced, noisy story filled with vivid scenes of violence and mayhem. Instead it's about the quiet desperation that lies just below the surface of civility. It's also about the few people among us whose civility goes right down to the bone. That's Samuel.
I had some moments of doubt about this one. Frances Wilson writes with vast assurance about the murky depths of Dorothy Wordsworth's mind even while aI had some moments of doubt about this one. Frances Wilson writes with vast assurance about the murky depths of Dorothy Wordsworth's mind even while admitting that Dorothy herself had no idea what was going on there. In a sense, she's trying to have it both ways: she portrays Dorothy as an unstable, permeable membrane of a person, a woman without a clear identity, and yet she gives Dorothy a vivid and legible self: throughout the book, she speculates in great detail about what exactly D was thinking and feeling. She's very sure of herself. At many places in the text, she gets quite snippy about the speculations of previous biographers of the Wordsworths, as if only she has the psychological penetration to comprehend these tangled relationships of more than 200 years ago.
But perhaps she does. Her scholarship is impressive. She presents some new sources of material about Dorothy, and she weaves a great tangle of letters, journals, poetry and prose from Dorothy and the Wordsworths' whole circle of family, friends, and enemies, into a compelling tapestry of D's everyday life. This is her job as biographer, to bring a life to life, and she does it. She convinces me that she has good evidence for her version of D's life--mostly her inner life. So I decided to cast my reservations aside and read the book like a novel, to experience it as I would a movie based on D's Grasmere journals, i.e. to give Wilson some leeway and quit holding her feet to the fire. After all, there's no proving she's wrong. There's no proving she's right either, of course. So I went along for the ride. She's a fine writer who can build a story out of mere fragments, and I admire that.
I'll be going to Grasmere again this September, and I'll see it through new eyes. Not Dorothy's, but she'll be tenderly in my mind. ...more