March 21, 2014

Book Review: The Last Death of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames


Terry Shames (A Killing at Cotton Hill) brings retired police chief Samuel Craddock back for another investigation in The Last Death of Jack Harbin. A little crusty around the edges, Craddock is concerned when Bob Harbin has a fatal heart attack, leaving his son, Jack--who lost a leg and his eyesight in the Gulf War--without care. No one in the small town of Jarrett Creek, Tex., knows how Jack is going to manage without his dad to take care of him.

Jack, a high school football star who signed up for the military because of a girl (who then married his best friend), is bitter about his situation and devastated at the loss. Then, less than a week later, Jack is murdered.

Jarrett Creek's current police chief is an alcoholic, so the mayor quietly asks Craddock to investigate the death. Craddock knows all the key players: Was the killer Jack's erstwhile best friend or his creepy brother who was involved in a Branch Davidian-type cult or someone who'd resented Jack's status as a football star and war hero? For that matter, did Bob really die of a heart attack?

Craddock's methodological investigative strategies and occasionally curmudgeonly ways of thinking (narrated in the first person) are a joy to read. The Last Death of Jack Harbin brings the rivalries and secrets only possible in a small town to the forefront, creating a host of entirely believable minor characters. Football fans, mystery lovers and anyone who's ever lived in a small town will all enjoy The Last Death of Jack Harbin.

Two things surprised me about this book: one, I liked it a lot. Somehow you wouldn't think I'd like a slightly curmudgeonly detective, and I've never liked small-town life, but I loved how vividly Shames recreated it.

Two, Terry Shames is a woman. I guess because my dad is named Terry, I always assume Terry is a male name. Boy was I surprised at the Tucson Festival of Books when she was sitting in a panel with Cara Black! Ironically, I couldn't get The Last Death of Jack Harbin signed, because I'd already given it to my dad.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Hesitantly. There's some language.

Do YOU like small town life?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. And it contains a few of my affiliate links.