Tuesday, June 22, 2021


UH-OH: Please note that I made a mistake and wrote a post in reply to next week's question, rather than this week's. 

 Terry Shames answering NEXT week's question: Have you written about any controversial issues or created controversial characters in your books? Do you raise issues of conscience or do you steer away from moral questions? 

 To answer this question, I’ll start with a few reviews of my books: 

A Killing at Cotton Hill

"A favorite of fans who like their police procedurals with a strong ethical center, Shames provides the back story of a Southern cop caught between his job and his culture.” -Kirkus Reviews 

The Last Death of Jack Harbin

 “…check out Shames' Samuel Craddock mysteries if you want a complex, riveting story dealing with contemporary issues. The Last Death of Jack Harbin is… a gritty, compelling story.” 
                    Lesa Holstine, Lesa’s Book Critiques 

An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock

 “Skilled depictions of [Samuel Craddock’s] formative choices and emotions enhance a timely story with resonance in the era of Black Lives Matter.” -                                   Publishers Weekly, *STARRED REVIEW 

 A Reckoning in the Back Country

 “Samuel is as large-minded as he is large-hearted; he’s aware of the racism and sexism of others and navigates these in a way that makes him one of the best allies of minority characters in contemporary fiction.” 
                   Criminal Element 

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary

 “…this book offers serious reflection on the hazards of online dating for those not fully prepared for the risks involved.” 
           Michael J. McCann, Mystery, Thriller &Suspense/Cozy, April 2019 


I believe it’s the job of crime writers to explore crime in all its ramifications. By that I mean everything from the context in which a crime occurs, to the way contemporary issues get mixed in with crime, to how a crime affects the people in a community. 

 Crime doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It occurs in the context of personal and civic history, cultural expectations, family dynamics, religious tradition, politics, friendships, and enmity. The crime hinges on the extent to which one of these forces gets out of control. One reason I continue to write the Samuel Craddock series is that I think the small town is a perfect microcosm for exploring how these various facets of people’s lives can influence their behavior—for good or ill. 

 In A Killing at Cotton Hill, I explore how family dynamics can twist people so that they develop an outsized need for validation that drives them to commit crimes. It also touches on the subject of small-town police laziness, if not outright corruption. 

The Last Death of Jack Harbin explores several community dynamics—deep friendships, especially among men; religious extremism; and how the threat of a person’s place in the community can force them to do things they never would have thought themselves capable of. And in that book, I shone a spotlight on a national disgrace—the careless way veterans of war are treated in this country. I also introduced a character who’s convinced that every citizen should carry a gun. If that isn’t controversial, I don’t know what it. 

 Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek veers into the dynamics of small-town politics and how greed and incompetence can lead to a city becoming insolvent. 

 A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge goes deeper into the subject of family dynamics and secrets that can destroy people’s lives. In particular, the book takes on how young men can use their power ruthlessly, believing that they will never be brought to a reckoning. 

 The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake is the only book in which I explore mental illness. I don’t have much interest in writing about serial killers or psychopaths. What does interest me is how a family’s twisted response to mental illness can have a devastating effect, especially when the emotionally stunted person believes she is acting out of love for her family. 

Probably my most clearly political book is An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock. It deals with issues of race; police corruption and brutality; and drug usage. The book was featured in an article in Publishers Weekly: The writer of the article quoted me: “It’s the job of crime fiction to explore crime in all of its ramifications…When law enforcement is part of the problem, it presents a particularly difficult situation.” From “Dirty Blue Line: Police Corruption And Brutality in Crime Fiction, in Publishers’ Weekly, November 18, 2016. 

 In A Reckoning in the Back Country I explore the horrific subject of dog fighting. In researching the subject, I was interested to find that lawmen hesitate to investigate rumors of dog fighting rings because the men who force their dogs to participate are particularly brutal, and lawmen who poke their noses into it are at high risk of being murdered. 

 A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary was meant to be a more light-hearted book, but when I dug into the subject of how older people can be dragged into scams on on-line dating sites, it took a dark turn. 

 The bottom line is always that someone views an ordinary set of rules—legal or moral--as a constraint that can, or must, be broken in order to satisfy some outsized need. I once asked fellow-author Doug Lyle what he thought drove people to commit crimes. He replied that he thought it was a fear of losing face. What I think that means is that when someone fears that his or her self-image will suffer a fatal blow by public exposure, they feel a desperate need to remedy the situation. And sometimes that drives the person to commit a crime without regard to the consequence. Is that a moral question, or a civic one? Either way, I’ll continue to plunge into those areas of my characters’ lives that dig into ethical and moral subjects.

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