Writing team turns out entertaining mysteries

Three friends who write under the pen name of Miles Arceneaux have turned out their third murder mystery set on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Ransom Island (Stephen F. Austin University Press, $19.95 paperback) features Rupert Sweetwater, owner of the Shady Palm Bar and Grill on Ransom Island, across the bridge from Aransas Pass.

The story is fiction, but in the introduction Arceneaux notes that Ransom Island is a real place, and at one time it did have a beer joint and dance hall and guest cabins. It was “rough-and-ready and had its share of scandalous characters.”

But after a hurricane wiped out the narrow bridge between Aransas Pass and Ransom Island in the 1950s, the island quickly declined, and today it is deserted.

Arceneaux brings it back to life in the novel, set in the island’s heyday, around 1953. Galveston gangsters, a runaway girl, a crazy beach hermit named Barefoot, a beer joint full of lovable losers, and Duke Ellington’s band populate the pages of Ransom Island. And, of course, there is murder and a gangster plot that could be the death of the place.

It all comes together in a highly readable, entertaining tale that introduces a boy named Charlie Sweetwater and his older brother, Johnny. And so, in that regard, Ransom Island becomes a prequel to the two earlier Arceneaux books, Thin Slice of Life and LaSalle’s Ghost, both featuring Charlie Sweetwater.

Thin Slice of Life was the first book, and it took the three friends—Brent Douglass, John T. Davis, and James R. Dennis—about 25 years and several massive rewrites to finish it. The sequel, LaSalle’s Ghost, came together a lot quicker, as did Ransom Island.

If you haven’t read any of the Arceneaux books, you might want to read them in chronological order, beginning with Ransom Island, then Thin Slice of Life and LaSalle’s Ghost. But whatever order you choose, you’re in for some good reading.

Corpus Christi: Alan Lessoff, a former history professor at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, has written Where Texas Meets the Sea: Corpus Christi and Its History (University of Texas Press, $29.95 hardcover).

The 360-page urban history deals not so much with the chronological history of Corpus Christi; rather it examines concepts and aspects of the city’s history— such as ethnic diversity, public art, tourism, and preservation vs. development— that are distinctive to Corpus Christi itself but also relate to similar issues facing mid-sized cities everywhere.

Glenn Dromgoole is co-author of 101 Essential Texas Books. Contact him at g.dromgoole@suddenlink.net.

>> Read his past Texas Reads columns in Lone Star Literary Life here.