A debut novel, an oldie but goldie, a new release

Who’s your favorite Texas mystery sleuth and/or author? Write me at j.alter@tcu.edu, and I’ll see what I can dig up on that sleuth or author.


Texas native Sandra Marshal debuts with a mystery and a smashing title, Death in the Time of Pancho Villa. In 1911, the city of El Paso is tense, anticipating a battle in the Mexican Revolution to land on its streets. Rose Westmoreland, traveling alone without protector or chaperone, arrives looking for her husband who has apparently disappeared in the revolution.


Rose is befriended by two women, a retired actress and a young Mexican expatriate, who give advice that would horrify her family back in Ohio. Then a reporter recruits her to use her photographic skills to take portraits of the revolutionary leaders, including the colorful and much-feared Pancho Villa and the quieter Frances Madero, who believed he was led to anti-authoritarianism by messages from his deceased brother. Rose, fascinated by borderlands culture, is soon caught up in the revolution and finds her life in danger. When Villa and Madero take control of Ciudad Juarez and celebrate their victory, Rose learns the truth about her husband.


Marshall’s background as an archeologist and architectural historian of the American Southwest, coupled with meticulous research, accounts for the accuracy in this story, from people and events to details of place. Marshall received a Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Authors while writing her first novel. She and her husband live in southern New Mexico.


As Marshall writes, “Where one door closes, another opens, and on the border, there are many doors.” Look for a sequel to this powerful novel that will carry you back in time and maybe across a border.


If you’ve missed the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas, you’ve missed some fine reading. Author Terry Shames, a Texas native now transplanted to California, has created a small-town once-retired police chief called back to duty by a murder. Samuel Craddock is widowed, an art collector, and a wryly wise man of deliberation—a refreshingly different voice in a mystery. There are now eight books in the series, and Terry is at work on the ninth.


She writes, “I’m interested in desperation: What drives people to believe that if they get one person out of the way, they’re home free. It’s not just the puzzle I’m after, but the story at the heart of the puzzle. That involves finding out how people see themselves. I’m also interested in secrets and identity: The secrets people keep from others and from themselves, and how they identify their roles in the community.”


Reviewers have compared her books to Bill Crider, C J Box, Craig Johnson, Steven Havill, and Margaret Maron. From Kirkus: “A favorite of fans who like their police procedurals with a strong ethical center.” The books have been finalists for numerous awards, including the Macavity, the Strand Critics Award, and the Lefty Awards, winning the Macavity and an RT Reviews critics award for Best Contemporary Mystery of 2016. MysteryPeople twice named Terry one of the top five Texas mystery writers of the year.


Raised in a small Texas town, Shames believes it’s possible to know just about everything about the human condition from what happens in a small town. Jarrett Creek is her laboratory, and Samuel Craddock her best evidence.


A personal note: I am excited about the September 16 release of my new culinary mystery, Saving Irene.


Irene Foxglove wishes she were a French chef. Henrietta James, her assistant, knows she is nothing more than a small-time TV chef on a local Chicago channel. And yet when Irene is threatened, Henny tries desperately to save her, always wishing that “Madame” would tell her the truth—about her marriage, her spoiled daughter, her days in France, the man who threatens her. Henny’s best friend, the gay guy who lives next door, teases her, encourages her, and shares meals with her, even as she wishes for more. Murder, kidnapping, and some French gossip complicate this mystery, set in Chicago and redolent with the aroma of fine food.


I had fun writing this, researching not only the food for Irene’s shows and proposed cookbook but Chicago’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood. I grew up in Hyde Park, but there have been tremendous changes in the years since my childhood. Some things never change, though, like my beloved Lake Michigan. Writing was a real nostalgia trip for me.


Here’s what one advance reader had to say:


“You'll find yourself cheering for Henny James as she works beyond her job description as prep assistant to save her boss, Irene Foxglove, glamorous local French-ish TV chef, from dangers that lurk behind the scenes, plunging them into a complicated hot stew, boiling over with trouble, not only for them, but for Irene's family and Henny's delicious (but gay) neighbor, Patrick. Henny needs to figure this out quick, before her goose is cooked.” —-Kaye George, author of Deadly Sweet Tooth (Vintage Sweets Mysteries Book 2)


Saving Irene is a stand-alone or could be the beginning of a series. Who knows? It depends on Irene and Henny.


Judy Alter, former director of TCU Press, is the prolific author of books, both historical and mysterious, mostly about Texas women. Her most recent book, The Second Battle of the Alamo, tells the story of the two women who saved the Alamo from demolition. Follow Judy at http://www.judyalter.com.