Bestselling, award-winning author Terry Shames writes the bestselling Samuel Craddock series and was named one of the top five Texas mystery writers of 2015. Today she stops by to tell us about the Texas town that inspired the setting for her series. Learn more about Terry and her books at her website.
I grew up in Texas in what seems like a very different world from the Texas I see in the news these days. In my golden memory people laughed more, were more tolerant, more laid back….
That’s memory for you. Not always reliable. But that’s the Texas I celebrate in my books. In particular, I focus on a small town based on where my grandparents lived when I was a child. I loved visiting them there. To me, who lived in a town on the Gulf Coast, where rows of houses surrounded a town center and without a farm in sight, the farming community was exotic. I liked seeing cows and chickens, goats and pigs; loved the smell of freshly turned earth on farms.
If you’ve never been in a feed store, entering one is like stepping into another world of smells and sights that you don’t see in a suburb. If you don’t fish or hunt on a regular basis, a sporting goods store in the middle of town that sells bait and wading boots and rifles and ammunition is a curiosity. In this small town there was no movie theater or big grocery store or department store. But there was an ice cream shop with wooden floors and a ceiling fan, a dry goods store that carried goods that seemed from another century, and a dance hall/ bar on the outskirts of town. There were no motels. You couldn’t get city radio stations, and TV was limited. The only place to eat out was one seedy café and a Dairy Queen. Is it any wonder that I remember this as a peaceful time?
The town has grown up. There are now antique stores, two motels, an art gallery, several places to eat out, and even a small museum that chronicles when Harvey Girls worked on the railroad that went through town. The high school now has modern tennis courts. You can get cell phone coverage, and Internet service, and any TV or radio station within a hundred miles. There’s a big grocery store and contemporary houses, and a small block of newly constructed two-story offices.
And yet, the core that I remember is still there. When I visit and go into one of the cafes to eat, the farmers still wear overhauls or jeans; hats and boots. The inhabitants are friendly (although with that hint of suspicion that always seems to underlie their interactions with outsiders.) There is still a scent in the air of rich soil and lush vegetation, oh yes, and barbecue. You still see people barbecuing in brick pits or in cookers made out of huge oil drums. The water still tastes of the strong iron component in the soil that leeches into the water. On really hot days you still get the bitter scent of creosote from discarded railroad ties from the tie plant that has been gone for decades.
Going back to visit, I get a chance to rejuvenate my sense of place for the Samuel Craddock series. It’s invigorating to go where he goes, see the people he sees, the houses he passes, the lake, the Dairy Queen, and everything in between. But I also have to have Samuel change with the times. He now has a cell phone, and computer, and he uses modern forensic practices. He’s even learning how to text! Balancing the two is true in fiction as much as it is in real life.
An Unsettled Crime for Samuel Craddock: A Samuel Craddock Mystery
When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper
Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.
Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.