Thursday, August 02, 2012

WHEN OLD MEN DIE by Bill Crider

Crossroad Press Ebook Edition
Bill Crider is best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery novels, but his work is not limited to any one genre or style.  His Dan Rhodes mysteries tend to be a mixture of hardboiled and whodunit with a touch of humor to keep it fresh.  Mr Crider also wrote a series of novels featuring part-time and usually unwilling private investigator Truman Smith.  

The third Truman Smith novel, When Old Men Die, finds Truman putting the disappearance and murder of his sister behind him.  He has a steady job with a bail bondsman in Galveston, Texas, and as the novel opens he is approached by Dino, one of his oldest pals, to find a homeless man called Outside Harry.

Outside Harry is a fixture around town.  One of a group of homeless that are there, but rarely seen and Truman is a little dubious of the whole setup.  He can’t figure why Dino wants to find Outside Harry and Dino’s explanation that Harry was his friend doesn’t wash.  But Smith owes Dino and he commits to look for Harry over the weekend.  It only takes a few hours for Truman to find trouble followed by more until he has to either solve the case or get out of Galveston.

When Old Men Die
is an entertaining story with all of Bill Crider’s trademarks—the mystery is tightly and superbly plotted, the characters are eccentric with muddy motives, and the humor is good natured and funny.  The style and theme, or maybe the attitude, is more hardboiled than much of Mr Crider’s current writing, but it works and works well.  The setting is pitch-perfect—Galveston is described, both past and present, with nuanced detail by a writer who obviously knows and likes the city.  The prose is lucid and smooth with enough bite to make it interesting—

“There were three quick shots, two of them scoring the floor; the third one glanced of the flashlight and sent it spinning crazily.”

And one of my favorite details of the Truman Smith novels is his cat Nameless.  A name, or lack thereof, that is conspicuously similar to Bill Pronzini’s long running Nameless Detective series.  The best part, Nameless is a cat in every detail—
“He’s big and yellowish orange, with gray-green eyes.  He took his time about entering.  He looked up at me as if to ask where I’d been all evening, then stretched and gawked and looked behind him before stepping daintily through the door.”

When Old Men Die was originally published in hardcover by Walker & Company in November 1994.  It is currently available in ebook format from Crossroad Press at both Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

This is a reworked version of a review originally published at Dark City Underground  in 2010.