The Last Death of Jack Harbin: Terry Shames
Sometimes what happens in the past cannot be filtered out in the present. Once again Sam Craddock is called upon to aid in the investigation of a murder in the small town of Jarrett Creek. The population of this town is made of up a group of people who manage to know everyone’s business, poke holes into their lives and provide a touch of humor that you won’t get anywhere else. The story opens with a discussion, yelling and complaining about the loss of the football game by their local team. Not understanding why the coach would bench their star quarterback everyone has their own take on the situation. Jack Harbin is the central figure of this novel and at the beginning he too has his own take and rants about the results of the game. But, Jack is a war veteran fighting in Desert Storm and returned to this small town seriously injured. No longer able to see or walk he counts on others for information, telling him the plays of the game and describing them and taking care of him along with his father, Bob. The angry mob rages at the coach and eventually they hope it simmers down but no one can or will understand the rationale behind benching Louis.
The Chief of Police is Rodell Skinner who is constantly going off on benders and is really not capable of finding his own shoelaces none the less a criminal or solving a murder. With Rodell out of sorts and the deputy sworn in as temporary Chief, the town is truly hard up for anyone with any kind of intelligence to run the investigation into anything. So, Sam takes it upon himself to tell Jack about his father’s death, informs his mother who has been MIA since he returned home, not being able to deal with his injuries or face him, and Taylor Bennett the girl he lost and left behind. Woody Patterson and Jack were best friends until Jack went off to war and Woody was declared unfit leaving him behind to marry the one girl they both wanted. Things spiral out of control and their friendship ends leaving them both with a hollow void that might never be filled. When Woody and his new wife, Laurel show up at his father’s funeral and want to pay their respects after, Jack demands that they not be allowed in and will not deal with them at all. Why?
Loretta is waiting for Sam to go along to Bob’s funeral and pay her respects and stay with Sam for a few days. Going to Jack’s house he volunteers to stay with him in order to make sure he is cared for while some of his army buddies take time to go to work and each one taking a turn at night. Dealing with Jack’s brother Curtis was no picnic as he was nasty, obstructive and harbored a grudge against Jack. Listening to the conversation and hearing Jack you being to wonder if he wants to live. The discussion at any time always reverts back to Coach Eldridge and sacking Louis for whatever reason. Things start to look kind of suspicious and everyone wonders why when the team wins the next two games. But someone notices 2 men hanging out and lurking in the woods just who are they and what business would they have with anyone in this small town? But, evidence comes to light that Sam begins to wonder if Bob really had a heart attack or something else caused his death. At the funeral Sam’s mind wanders over the events while Curtis gives what he thinks is a heartfelt send off to his late father. Added in to create more drama Woody and Laurel show up and Jack demand that they are thrown out. Friendships are lost, others tested and lies are about to come to the surface as the author weaves Jack’s past, his relationship with Taylor and how Walter and Taylor saved his life and why.
Walter Dunn, Taylor and Jack have a hidden past and when Sam digs further into Bob’s death he begins to wonder what is really happening and why the coach does not seem upset at the first loss and then several others to follow. The Coach has a secret that has yet to be revealed and when Jack is butchered and murdered Sam is asked to step in investigate. Resistance comes from a lot of sources and Taylor confides in him that she is worried about her sister Sarah that provides the backdrop for another storyline as she, Curtis and her children are living with members of a cult.
Marybeth is Jack and Curtis’s mother and she seems too fragile to deal with Bob and Jack’s deaths although she deserted them after his injuries in the army. Added in we get to know more about the cult that Taylor’s sister lives in and when approaching and able to finally see her she uses a hidden code that tells her things are not quite what they seem. So, Sam investigates and looks up the head of the cult to learn that he is a known pedophile and things heat up drastically when he informs Curtis about it and the dangers his family and children face. Not believing him he discounts his words until the truth finally comes out.
Things heat up and because Rodell is just about MIA and has to be sent off somewhere to dry out what happens next will alert readers that someone is out to eliminate the Harbins as Jack is brutally murdered and the nurse that looks after him at night calls Sam when she finds him. Calling the police is a task that is not helpful and making sure the crime scene is not corrupted his first task. Waiting for the ambulance to come Sam sees something in Bob’s bank account and in Jack’s that triggers an alarm. Why was so much money being taken out of his veteran’s benefits and then part of all of it put back except for one payment of 10,000 dollars? Something was odd and Sam was going to figure out if this has anything to do with Jack’s murder. Added in we also learn more about The True Marcus Ministry, the man who runs it and the end result which should have enlightened Curtis. Stating that his family was safe and that no one need get into his business when he learns the truth will he finally take his family somewhere else? What about Marybeth?
Family values, friendships, and a hidden secret finally revealed as we learn what really happened to Jack, why Walter felt compelled to help him and the guilt he bore as a result of something he did. Sometimes we try to do the right thing and when we turn away we soon learn it’s wrong.
When Sam finally pieces together whom the money went to and why the killer just might be revealed but will it be too late but for whom? An ending that is quite shocking, a community rocked to the core and two men killed for the sake of someone else’s greed and a football team at the core of what shall be known as the Last Death of Jack Harbin. As the author reveals the secret of what really happened to Jack after leaving the army and becoming injured the meaning of the title will come clear. The second in the Sam Craddock mystery series. Let’s hope the people of Jarrett Creek reinstate him as chief of police.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine