While we’re nearing the end of our vacation, a warm welcome to Terry Shames who is celebrating the latest release in her Samuel Craddock series, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock.
Why I Wrote a Prequel to the Samuel Craddock Series
My first Samuel Craddock book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, came out in July of 2013. I chose to write about an older protagonist because I was tired of seeing anyone over fifty described as decrepit in most crime novels. I didn’t want to write about an amateur, so I decided he should be someone who had been in law enforcement in the past, and who was drawn back into an investigation.
As soon as the novel came out I started getting questions about how Samuel Craddock had become who he was: What was his dear, departed wife like? Why was he still called “Chief” after years of not being Chief of Police of Jarrett Creek? How did he get interested in art?
My editor suggested that I write a prequel to answer those questions. I already had three or four book ideas in mind, so I put the prequel on the back burner. By the time I was ready to approach it, I knew that I was going to base the book on a real event that had always intrigued me. In the 1990s a horrific murder occurred in the small Texas town that is the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. I decided to move the fictional events into the early 80s, when Samuel would have been around thirty.
Before I began writing, I looked up the real case history to refresh my memory. To my surprise, I found that the man who was charged and convicted of the crime and who had been in prison for eighteen years had been freed by the Innocence Project in 2010. Here’s a quote from a Texas Monthly magazine article about the case: “There was no clear motive, no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and the only witness against him recanted.” The man who was convicted, like the victims, was African American.
For me, it’s the job of crime fiction to explore crime in all its ramifications: how it affects the community, how the law approaches crime, and all the social and legal implications that come into play. For the prequel I drew on Samuel’s deep roots in the community, and how those roots affected him. Samuel’s young wife didn’t want him to take on the job as chief of police, and I explored the effect his decision had on both of them.
When law enforcement is part of the problem, as it was in the real-life case, it presents a particularly interesting conundrum. In An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, I confronted Craddock, a green chief of police, with the double issue of being new on the job and discovering that the very people charged with bringing justice were part of the problem. In the end, he has to decide whether he will ignore the racism and bigotry of the officer in charge of the case or confront it, and whether casual community bigotry will influence him. Answering those questions gave me a good sense of who Samuel Craddock is in later books, and I hope it does the same for readers.
Terry Shames is the Macavity Award-winning author of the Samuel Craddock mysteries A Killing at Cotton Hill, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, and The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake. She is the coeditor of Fire in the Hills, a book of stories, poems, and photographs about the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. She grew up in Texas and continues to be fascinated by the convoluted loyalties and betrayals of the small town where her grandfather was the mayor. Terry is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.