When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper.
Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.
Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.
In “An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock”, Shames give us the opportunity to know a younger version of Samuel Craddock. The story takes place when Craddock is inexperienced and unsure of himself. The attributes we identify with the older Craddock, strength of character, purposefulness and strong-mindedness, were firmly established at a young age. This prequel introduces readers to the love of Craddock’s life, his wife Jeanne. In this story, we see those interactions as they happen instead of through memories.
The writing is polished and succinct. Shames did an excellent job of giving the reader descriptions of the crime and racial aspects of the story without being graphic. The storyline is engrossing and taut with suspense. This may be Shames’ best Craddock mystery so far.