Tuesday, September 7, 2010

WHEN OLD MEN DIE by Bill Crider

Bill Crider is best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery novels, but his work is not limited to any one genre—he has written Western, horror and even, in his early years, men’s adventure—or style. His Dan Rhodes mysteries tend to be a mixture of hardboiled and whodunit with a touch of humor to keep it fresh. I’m a big fan of the Dan Rhodes novels, but I’m also a fan of Bill Crider’s work in general. I especially enjoy a series written by Mr Crider in the early- to mid-1990s featuring part-time and usually unwilling private investigator Truman Smith, which is more hardboiled than the Sheriff Dan Rhodes stories, but there is still a compelling mystery and that extra touch of humor.

I recently read the third Truman Smith novel, When Old Men Die. It was published by Walker and Company in 1994. Truman is finally beginning to put the disappearance and murder of his sister behind him. He has a steady job with a bail bondsman in Galveston, Texas and the novel opens when he is approached by Dino, one of his oldest pals, to find a homeless man called Outside Harry.

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 and then more trouble until he has to either solve the case or get out of Galveston altogether.

When Old Men Die
is an entertaining story with all of Bill Crider’s trademarks—the mystery is tight 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 what Mr Crider is currently 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 once glanced of the flashlight and spent it spinning crazily.”
A detail I really enjoyed about the novel is Truman Smith’s cat Nameless. A name, or lack thereof, that is conspicuously similar to Bill Pronzini’s long running Nameless Detective series. The best part is, 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 is worth seeking out and finding. It will keep you entertained to the very end.

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