When I attended Sleuthfest here in Orlando a couple of months ago, not only did I sit on a panel entitled "Reviewing the Reviewer", I also attended one called "The Perfect Setting". This panel discussed the importance of not only the what or the who in a mystery, but the WHERE. All four panelists had very unique locations for their mysteries, particularly Reavis Z. Wortham, whom I met later.
Reavis is not a guy who blends. He has a long braid that goes down his back and wears a big Stetson on top of his head. Once he starts talking in his slow drawl, you know the guy is all about Texas. The man exudes Texas. And that is the setting that he brings to his new series, the Red River Mysteries. "The Rock Hole" is Reavis's first in the series.
Synopsis: It is the summer of 1964 in a small Texas town, and 10 year-old Top has come to live with his grandfather Ned Parker, who is the local constable. Life is all about the simple pleasures for Top, like hanging out with his foul-mouth, tomboy cousin Pepper, hunting wild boar, going camping, looking for arrowheads, and accompanying his grandpa when he is busting up illegal stills or smacking around drunks.
But things take a sinister turn when the bodies of several animals turn up tortured and skinned, with hints that the violence could escalate to humans. Soon it does, and it appears that Ned and his family may be the next target.
My thoughts: While at its core, this IS a murder mystery...but it was so much more than a murder mystery. It is a coming-of-age story that is narrated primarily by a precocious boy perched on the edge of adolescence, wise beyond his years but still innocent, in a way that only a kid of the '60's can be. It is about a small town divided by skin color, but aspiring to grow beyond the racial biases of the past. It is about acknowledging one's limitations that comes with age, and facing the inevitable passing of the torch to a younger generation.
And yes there is a mystery. It was strange...the crimes being committed were terrible and threatening, but always felt an arms-length away from the reader. It seemed like the antagonist was distant and benign, right up until the end, when he/she wasn't. Perhaps this was because we never were allowed into the psyche of the evil-doer, or that the crimes were committed over a period of time. It is even possible this was exactly the intent of the author...to focus on the characterization, and let the bad-guy sneak up and bite you in the ass. It was clever.
I loved the cast of characters here. I became attached to them. They are human and quirky and enduring, very small town-ish, which is exactly what you want in a series. I am pretty thrilled that I'm going to get to see them again in the second book "Burrows", which is due out in July. (Which is sitting on my nightstand and is whispering to me.)
A few words about the audio production: In my discussions with Reavis, I mentioned that I'm an audio fan, and that I am somewhat horrified that authors have no say when it comes to who narrates their books. Reavis agreed, but told me he was quite pleased with his narrator for "The Rock Hole", Traber Burns. Knowing that meant a lot to me, because if there is an accent (Texas! Hello!), it had better be right. Traber is a new voice for me, but he rocked the earbuds. He even started to sound like Reavis in my head, telling me the story. (I'd like to thank Blackstone audio for allowing me the opportunity to listen to this book.)
4.5 out of 5 stars