READER’S GUIDE :
A Killing at Cotton Hill:
1. Samuel Craddock, our sixty-something protagonist and retired small-town sheriff, collects modern art. He was originally inspired by his late wife, who was a collector, but he has developed his own passion for art. What does this tell you about his character? What might his specific tastes in art reveal about him?
2. Early in the book, Samuel tells us about Cotton Hill, how the cotton crop that inspired the hamlet’s name is “a terrible crop for the land, sucking up all the nutrients and leaving it as depleted as if it had been strip-mined, but it makes a pretty sight.” How does this set the stage for some of the larger issues and motivations depicted in the novel?
3. Small-town life is at the forefront of all the Samuel Craddock books. In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, Samuel remarks of his neighbor, attorney Jenny Sandstone, that “theoretically,” he should be able to hire her expertise with money. “But small towns don’t work on theory.” How do small towns work? What makes solving a crime committed in one different from a big city murder?
4. Family dynamics play a huge part in the events of A KILLING AT COTTON HILL. In what way are the “sins of the fathers” reflected in their children?
5. “People get funny about land,” lawyer Jenny Sandstone says at one point in the novel. How do the different characters relate to the at times harsh landscape of Jarrett County? How has it affected their personalities and the rhythms of life in Jarrett Creek?
The Last Death of Jack Harbin:
1. “Like most small towns in Texas, Jarrett Creek holds football in high regard.” Why do you think this is? How does the importance of football in Jarrett Creek influence the events in THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN?
2. Definitions of manhood play an important role in THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN. How do you see manhood defined in the small-town Texas of Jarrett Creek? How is that definition reflected in the characters of Jack and his brother Curtis, and what conflicts has it created in them?
3. Samuel reflects that, “It’s terrible what the need to save face will do to people.” How does the need to save face influence the actions of the characters in THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN?
4. Jack is not always the easiest person to be around but his friends are fiercely loyal to him. What qualities of his do you think engender that loyalty? How does he differ from his brother Curtis, who seems to have no close personal ties?
5. Toward the end of THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN, Woody says: “I look at those boys out there on the football field Friday nights, and I wish I could tell them whatever they imagine their life is going to be, it’ll be different from what they think.” How do you think the various characters saw their lives in high school versus how their lives actually turned out? How different has the path of your own life been from the one you imagined at that age?
DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK
1. In DEAD BROKE AT JARRENT CREEK, Samuel reflects that: “Greed, jealousy and fear have always been around, but there seems to be more willingness to bring violence into the mix these days…People have moved in from Houston, bought big pieces of land out on the far side of the lake, and set up some fine houses. And maybe they’ve brought some of their big city ways with them.”
What are some of the differences between “big city crime” and small-town crime? What are some of the unique challenges Samuel faces trying to solve the latter?
2. In DEAD BROKE, a realtor remarks: “For ten years or more I’ve heard rumors that a development is going to be built out here, and nothing has come of it yet. It goes to show you, everybody’s always trying to make something out of nothing.” Many events in the novel are connected to a run-down wildlife canned “hunting resort” and a water park that was never built and helped bankrupt a town. In what ways are these two very different developments similar? How might they both be “making something out of nothing”?
3. Samuel describes the McClusky’s house thusly: “The room looks like a decorator’s idea of a Western house.” How does this foreshadow what we learn about the couple later? How does the Remington painting further illustrate their values?
4. How does Samuel’s art collection reflect the life that he lived with Jeanne, and after?
5. “Everybody’s marriage is different,” Samuel remarks to Clara Dellmore. “And it can change people.” How does marriage change people, for the better and for the worse, in DEAD BROKE
A DEADLY AFFAIR AT BOBTAIL RIDGE
1. Wilson remarks that Jenny Sandstone “thinks she can handle every damn thing herself.” But much of the story of A DEADLY AFFAIR AT BOBTAIL RIDGE deals with Jenny having to face a significant trauma in her past, one that she can’t handle on her own. How has this past trauma shaped Jenny’s character? How do you think the resolution of certain mysteries at the novel’s end will affect Jenny? To what extent can a person “heal” from patterns created over a lifetime, even with these kinds of resolutions?
2. Why do you think Ellen’s children are angry that she’s left her husband, who is at the very least borderline abusive to her?
3. We see some of the regular characters in the Samuel Craddock books undergoing transformations in BOBTAIL, most markedly, Rodell and Loretta. What different factors and circumstances have prompted these transformations? How do their characters change? In Loretta’s case, what do you expect to see from her in the future?
4. How did prejudice against Latinx and women work to obscure the crimes committed in A DEADLY AFFAIR AT BOBTAIL RIDGE?
5. Eddie was handsome, charismatic and popular, but something about him also put people off in ways they could not always define. Have you ever known someone like Eddie? What were the signs that clued you in that something wasn’t right? And had you judged him (or her) correctly?
THE NECESSARY MURDER OF NONIE BLAKE
1. The Blake’s “ranch” is described as being in a desolate, scrub-filled landscape, never cultivated for farming or ranching. But the home itself is filled with expensive paintings and good furnishings. What might this hint about the Blake family?
2.Why do you think that Adelaide and the rest of the Blake family never visited Nonie while she was institutionalized?
3.Late in the novel, a character remarks that a certain family member was a criminal, and when referring to the possible guilt of another family member states, “my brother always said the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” What possible roles do you think heredity and environment played in the making of a murderer in NONIE BLAKE?
4.Samuel muses: “I think deep down most of us are pack animals, like dogs and wolves, uncomfortable with being outcast. Murder sets the perpetrator out of kilter with his community…Investigating…[is]…a matter of getting a few facts from one person, then another, and building a picture of what happened and hoping to drive the criminal to make a slip, because at heart he wants back into the pack.” Is Samuel right in his assessment in this case? In what ways was belonging important to the murderer in NONIE BLAKE? In what ways was it not?
5.Samuel is not a fan of horses, but he spends a lot of time and attention on his cows, even taking on three that were delivered to him “by mistake.” The small herd isn’t primarily for any commercial purpose. Why do you think he keeps them?