In a small Texas town, everyone knows each other. There are also numerous secrets bubbling beneath the surface. When Jeanne Clinton is found murdered, it threatens to throw the sleepy town into chaos. Jeanne was well-liked and pretty, and also had a bit of a reputation in her youth that may or may not have to do with her murder.
Sheriff Dan Rhodes is up for re-election. He’s a recent widower and is still trying to find his footing on that front in addition to investigating a murder that threatens to alienate him from the very people he wants to vote for him. It doesn’t look good for re-election and his opponent has no law enforcement experience. This gives Rhodes pause, as well as wondering if the recent crime spree has anything to do with the election.
Too Late to Die is a well-written mystery. Secrets are revealed at a good pace and I was really guessing as to who the culprit was. There were many possibilities as Rhodes uncovers a town’s secrets. There’s plenty of humor too, as readers go into Rhodes’ mind as he’s investigating. Between the pot-luck buffet and the local widow who’s setting her sights on the now-available lawman, there’s plenty of humor to be found in his head. Rhodes is a sympathetic figure who doesn’t jump to conclusions and tries to not be too heavy-handed with the locals. However, murder is a serious charge and he knows not figuring out who the killer is and what happened will hurt his chances in the election, not to mention leaving a murderer in their midst.
The characters are crafted very well. Jeanne is complex and it leads to different tangents in trying to assess her. On one hand, she seemed to have found a good man (if somewhat older than herself), married him, and settled down. On the other, numerous local men seemed to spend a lot of time at her home when her husband was at work, saying she was easy to talk to. Was there more to it than that? Asking these questions is hard for everyone involved, but particularly Jeanne’s husband, who is devoted to her and doesn’t want to believe what might be revealed.
I really enjoyed reading this introduction to Dan Rhodes. The story is well-paced and fun without being too light-hearted. I had a good feel for this dying Texas town and the country surrounding it. This was penned originally in 1980 and is now available on Kindle, bringing a new generation of readers to Crider’s stories. That includes me. However, the original setting means a bit of a difference in technology and the way the investigation is conducted. It’s legwork rather than forensics and technology that reveals what happened to Jeanne Clinton. I look forward to the rest of this series.