A Killing At Cotton Hill: Terry Shames
A small town has someone who you might call the town gossip or in this case her name is Loretta. She is not offensive, mean or cruel but manages to have her pulse on what is happening in the small town of Jarrett Creek. Murder is not the norm in this town but someone made sure that Dora Lee Parjeter did not live out her days in Cotton Hill. She was found murdered. Poor Loretta was doubled over with grief, could not believe that her friend was gone and had just spoken to her the previous evening.
Sam Craddock was the former police chief now retired and the present one Rodell Skinner doubles as the town drunk as well as police chief. Inept, not capable of solving where he might have put his own gun if misplaced, Sam, the former Police Chief, decides to take on the investigation of her murder making sure that justice would be done and her grandson Greg, who Rodell sees as good for the murder is cleared.
Dora Lee lived in Cotton Hill on farm. Her grandson lived in a shed that he turned into a living space for himself not wanting to live together with his grandmother. The evidence Rodell claims points to Greg as the killer and halls him off to jail but not without Sam stating he might be wrong, jumping to conclusions and calling Jenny Sandstone, the best lawyer in town to get him out on bail. But the intrigue and suspense is just starting as the players come into place when Wayne Jackson and his father Leslie Parjeter, come to town with their own agenda in mind. Wayne takes up residence in Dora Lee’s farm and Leslie, his stepfather, not the most wonderful person in this world, claims he can take Greg with him but something about him sets off alarms in Sam and he becomes protective of the young man making sure that he is well taken care of and that no harm comes to him.
As Sam enters Dora Lee’s house he begins to investigate the scene and collect different financial statements, pictures, folders and more putting them in some type of order. But, on the wall he notices that there is a painting missing and wonders where it might have gone since it was painted by a famous artist and worth quite a bit of money. Sam is a collector and his late wife Jeanne, had an eye for paintings and his collection is quite rare and valuable too. Wait until you see how author Terry Shames links Sam’s collection and Dora’s missing painting together. But, first let’s meet the rest of the cast as Sam and Greg bond, he sees that the young man is quite a talented artist himself and learns more about the art teacher that helped teach him the basics.
Although the plot is straightforward there are so complicated twists and serious surprises as Sam notifies Dora’s family starting with Leslie and Wayne and finally her daughter Caroline who she estranged from. A simple cold note sets the tone for how Caroline felt about her mother and why she decided to leave this small town and go to California will surprise readers as well as more motive for coming back. Caroline’s goal is to sell the farm and get as far away from her mother’s home as possible. Let’s meet Frances and Clyde Underwood two real estate agents who claim they would like to buy the farm at a fair price having been turned down by Dora. Could this be a great motive for murder? Swindlers, wanting to get the land since a major realtor company wants the land to build a car racing track to attack more people to the area and great financial gain, the Underwood’s are hoping to get a piece of the pie and what Sam does to find out more about him let’s you know that the wrong man is running the police department.
Roadblocks along the way. Resentment from Rodell who never seems to be in his office and never really doing his job allowing Sam to handle the funeral, deal with a blabbermouth bank president and learning just how much in debt Dora Lee was and why the Underwood’s thought they could get her land and she would have no choice but to sell.
Ida Ruth was Dora’s best friend and is quite taken aback and upset when she hears the news. But, with Loretta’s help the two ladies manage to get things done, keep Sam in food and deal with the arrangements for her funeral once the medical examiner clears her and determines the cause of death. Knowing that she was killed and it could be someone living in this small town or someone close to her alerts everyone to be on the look out and careful. Secrets are held within many of the small homes and when truths and lies come out just what was Dora hiding that might have gotten her killed? What secrets did she have that only Ida Ruth can reveal?
As Sam decides to investigate and finds out more about her financial stress, her late husband’s abuse and meets Caroline her daughter, even though she seems to be attracted or too friendly to Sam , does realize that something is totally off. Getting to know Wayne Jackson and his father Leslie you begin to wonder what secrets they hold and why Wayne has taken such an interest in Dora’s estate, why he would even want to help Greg and the truth behind his business in Houston. While Ida Ruth and Loretta go through Dora’s house and then decide on what she will wear for her final repose, Sam relates the information about her debts and why she had to mortgage her home to pay off them off. Learning more about her grandson, looking at his artwork Sam wants to learn more about his former teacher and why the lessons were stopped. Was it because he needed someone more advanced in the field to teach him? Was the man not the right fit or was it because Dora Lee could not afford to pay him anymore?
A funeral that is most enlightening as the simple conversation between Leslie and Wayne tips Sam off that something is odd and he begins to probe into their family history will definitely set off alarm bells in the reader’s mind when you get to know them both. Add in Caroline who is totally off, not straightforward and brings her own secrets to light or shall I say the ones she wants to share true or not, Sam begins to piece things together but someone wants him stopped.
Out to dinner with Loretta gave a thief the chance to steal Sam’s most valuable painting and set his house on fire. If not for Jenny coming that way all of his artwork would be lost and his house gone. Learning that his most valuable painting was missing, checking with an art gallery owner about its worth and the one by the same artist missing from Dora Lee and learning where it might be, things heat up for the killer and the truth will surprise readers. When Sam questions his brother in law about why anyone would want to buy up Dora’s land he finds begins to think that maybe there could be oil or natural gas but there are no deposits. Just what was Clyde Underwood up to and how would he find out? Farming land that yields not much of a crop and a lake that provides income for boaters, campers and fisherman.
Thinking through who might want to kill Dora, Sam lists the suspects in his mind and Clyde Underwood is at the top of his list: Greed, money, power and man claiming to have everyone’s best interest at heart when Sam pretends to seek out his help about the racetrack deal and begins to realize his true motives. Should he inform the major realtor who is looking to buy the land and build the track? Should he allow Clyde to swindle Greg and Caroline? Just what is Caroline’s story and who is behind the fire in Sam’s house, where is the missing painting from Dora’s house and who wants to buy it and why? How would the present holder of the painting prove ownership and what happens when the person holding it learns the truth?
Best Land Use Enterprises is the company that wants to build the track and the author throws in a surprise twist at this meeting that both readers and Sam won’t expect. With the help of Loretta, a confession by Ida Ruth and someone who blindsided quite a few people, Sam finally learns the truth behind Dora’s murder, why the person did it and who would profit from her death. Added in he wants to ensure Greg’s future as an artist but will he accept his help? An ending that is explosive, revealing, electrifying and proves that some are cut out for law enforcement while others sit back and take over the limelight, Sam Craddock pieces it together and races the clock before someone else is killed, the killer gets away and someone else profits. This is the first in the series and I am ready for the next one that is on my bookstand. Terry Shames keeps readers glued to the printed page since I read this book today and glad that Sam will be back for many more novels and just love Loretta.
Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ Magazine