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"...THERE COMES A RECKONING..." :GUILT STRIKES GRANGER'S STORE'S TERRY SHAMES

Terry Shames latest to feature Jarret Creek Chief Of Police Samuel Craddock has the small town lawman taking on a case of two murders in one crime scene, one being thirty years old. He also has to help his girlfriend's daughter from a Mexican jail. Terry is one of the sharpest and smartest writers in current crime fiction, so it was a pleasure to get to interview her.


SCOTT MONTGOMERY: How did the idea of the double murders, one being over thirty years old, come about?



TERRY SHAMES: When I was casting about for what the next Craddock book should be, I startied thinking about the first chapter of the second book, a scene in Granger’s Feed Store that is one of my favorite scenes, ever. I thought after these years Melvin Granger might be old enough to have to hand over the store to one of his kids, or sell it. Either way, I thought it would be interesting for there to be a renovation of the old store. And…in the process of renovation a body would be found hidden in the floorboards.


Having an “old” corpse found was part of my ongoing attempt not to have too many murders in the small town of Jarrett Creek (avoiding the Cabot Cove syndrome). But as I started contemplating who the victim was and how Chief Craddock would solve his murder, I realized that solving a 30-year murder wasn’t quite exciting enough. It seemed too dry. And then in noodling over what actually could have happened, I thought about how a murder thirty years ago would have resonance in the present, with people who were involved in the murder at the time. The second murder popped up!


S.M.: Is there anything you have to keep in mind when dealing with a mystery with so many moving parts and the subplot with Wendy's daughter?


T.S.: I usually try to have the subplot resonate with the main plot, but in this case the two were just too different, and had no points of intersection except that it means Maria, Craddock’s right-hand deputy is out of the picture for a while.


As for “so many moving parts,” once I figured out exactly what had happened, it began to fall into place. As the book progressed, I enjoyed including people who had moved on with their lives and who barely remembered events from thirty years ago, but it meant having to be judicious in how much of their stories I included. I can get so involved with a minor character that I meander off into the weeds, so I have to be strict with my edits.


S.M.: Was there anything you wanted to explore with The Granger Family?


T.S.: Jarrett Creek is a small town and a lot of young people move away. Both of Melvin Granger’s kids have gone on to lead busy lives elsewhere. But family continues to be important and both kids love their daddy. When he needs them, they show up. That said, they are very different people, and their differences come out in subtle ways. Little moments of selfishness or fierce protection of Melvin. I think it’s interesting when someone comes back home and tries to fit their current lives into past lives. The little things the Granger kids remember turn out to be important not only to the story, but to recognizing who they are.


S.M.: How would you describe Samuel Cradock's approach to investigating?


T.S.: One of the reviews I got from Publishers Weekly made me laugh, but it’s true. “Craddock is forced to rely more on his insight…than on forensics. But like a good shade tree mechanic, he gets the job done." Samuel is methodical. He doesn’t have great leaps of understanding. Instead, one thing leads to another. He pays attention to details and in every book there comes a reckoning with what he knows and what he doesn’t know, and how he can reconcile the two.

S.M.: Is there anything you have to keep in mind when writing about an investigation in a small town as opposed to a big city?


T.S.: Oh, for sure. Unlike big city police departments, Samuel has a small police force and has to sometimes rely on the County Sheriff and Department of Public Safety for help. He doesn’t want them running investigations, but he has to rely on their forensics and their manpower.


Another thing to keep in mind is something he mentions in almost every book: he is successful at investigating because he knows the people in the town, or at least knows of them. And if he doesn’t know them, he has Loretta Singletary to depend on for her connections. In books set in cities, cops often have an informer or local citizens, bad or good, who they can call on for information. That’s Samuel’s Loretta. Still, in cities it’s often true that people don’t necessarily have a lot of interconnectedness the way they do in small towns.


The last point is that in a large city, murder doesn’t have quite the breadth of “personal” feel that it does in a community of only 3,00 people. In Jarrett Creek, a murder has enormous implications for the whole community. It shocks people and shakes their trust in one another. People think they know each other, and a murder can remind them that there are unknowns.


S.M.: As a writer, what has made Samuel Craddock a character worth returning to?


T.S.: I like Samuel. I like his dry wit and his concern for the people in his town. I like his style. And my readers tell me they like him, too. But it isn’t only Samuel that makes Jarrett Creek worth returning to. It’s the whole cast of characters. If I haven’t written a Craddock book for a few months, I start wondering what they’re up to. Who is behaving badly? Who has moved away? Who has died?



I like having the history of some of the characters—Gabe LoPresto, who was a bad boy in an earlier book, and whose wife, Sandy, forgave him. I like Ellen Forester, who owns the art store and who was once Samuel’s girlfriend. I love the way Loretta has changed over time. And there’s Maria, Samuel’s Chief Deputy. She has settled in, but Samuel always worries that someone as talented as she is will move on to greener pastures. I like the fact that Samuel often has new deputies because the town isn’t big enough to contain the ambition of some of the cops.


And of course I enjoy introducing new characters. The town is only 3,000 people, but that’s enough to continue to find fresh blood to populate the stories.


And finally, I enjoy how the town has changed, has become a little more modern, how there are new housing developments, new stores and new people. Not that I don’t love the old places, like Town Café, but it’s intriguing to watch the outside world encroach. And for that, stay tuned for the next Samuel Craddock.


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