Saturday, August 14, 2010

Gator Kill by Bill Crider

Gator Kill by Bill Crider
Walker Publishing
Copyright 1992

“You don’t look like much of anything,” he said, “except maybe an out-of-work housepainter.”

Well, that may not be true. Truman Smith does paint houses to earn a few extra bucks, but he will put to use his past experiences as a detective to perform investigations for a friend in need. In the 90s, Bill Crider wrote five novels featuring the Galveston-based PI Truman Smith. And I found him as one of the most realistic private eyes that came through the pages of mystery crime fiction in the decade of the 90s. Bill Crider portrays Truman Smith as a loner and a bit of an introvert, add this to the depth-lined cases he gets himself involved in, and the results are an outstanding PI series that snares the reader into some capricious surroundings throughout Southeast Texas. My favorite is the second "Tru" novel, Gator Kill. (though I recommend starting with the first, Dead on the Island) I read Gator Kill for the third time this week and I'm glad I did, because reading a Truman Smith mystery is like visiting an old friend.

There were actually two doorways, one leading to a kitchen and one into a bedroom. The bedroom was where I looked.
That's where the dead woman was. She was wearing a dress that seemed obviously homemade and about two sizes too big. It was some kind of blue material, but
it was stained red in the front by blood. There was a small pool of blood beneath her. Most of it had soaked into the floor, staining it black. She looked fail and helpless in death.

Fred Benton is a tough old cuss and when someone kills and skins an alligator on his land, he’s going to do something about it. Coming off a missing person case that got his name in the news, part-time private investigator Truman Smith leaves Galveston Island to head over to Fred’s marsh property and have a look-see. Though not a glamorous case, to Fred killing the gator is murder and Tru agrees to investigate into who killed it. Of course there is more at work here than a rotting alligator. It first looks like Fred is being harassed and there are rumors that the State will be gobbling up surrounding lands. Then Tru steps into a double homicide and before you know it he becomes the target. Not only is he being shot at, but a tinted-windowed monster 4X4 is out hunting him down at night. But he understands this is the consequences of sticking your nose where people don’t want it. And it all comes to a head one night in a creepy, mosquito-infested swamp, when Fred and Tru drive out to investigate suspicious activities. An unexpected fatal meeting takes place and it's here where Tru puts the pieces of all the mysteries together. But it may be too late for him and Fred, as the eyes of the gators gaze upon them.

There’s enough plot twists in this one to keep the reader tightly gripping onto the book. Bill Crider has us going down one road and then he throws the curve. And later he does it again! The novel is filled with an assortment of colorful characters. My favorite is Fred Benton, who is sort of a sidekick in Gator Kill. A man in his 70s who is not afraid to provoke a fight, smokes unfiltered Camels, and has the stamina of a 40 year old. Heck, growing up I remember a guy just like that. There are characters throughout Gator Kill that we can relate to because we have run across types like them in our lifetime. The history behind Truman Smith is so damn intriguing, that we crave for more on him. A man that shuns people, he continues to be haunted by his inability to locate his missing sister. (there's more detail on this in Dead on the Island) When her murdered remains are found, he shoulders the blame and this adds to his unsocial-like state. All of this enhances the likable P.I.

This is the way I like my private detective novels. A whodunit that is packed with action, an ending that is just as much horror as it is mystery suspense, and an eerie atmosphere where the muggy nights are filled with rifle shots, mosquitoes, and mean gators lurking in the swamps.
Your shirt will be sticking to you when you read this one.


mybillcrider said...

Thanks for the kind words! I had a lot of fun writing that book.

Frank Loose said...

I love stories that feature swamp and coastal locales. Harry Whittington's A Moment to Prey, and Robert Alter's Swamp Sister are two terrific reads that use the swamp to great effect. Charles William's used it too, in Go Home Stranger.

I'm going to track down a copy of Gator Kill. Thanks for posting this review.

David Cranmer said...

I haven't read Truman Smith yet but I'm betting (after this review) I certainly should. I just finished the entertaining MURDER IN THE AIR and will post a mini-review later today.

George said...

Terrific review of a terrific book! Bill Crider owns the "gator" franchise.

Ben Boulden said...

This is a terrific novel. I read it a few years ago and enjoyed every page. It reminds me that I need to find another title in the Truman Smith series.

Thanks for the great review.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. Of course I read the five Smith books when they came out in the 90s and this one was probably the most memorable.

Jeff M.

Rusty James said...

Nice. You made that last paragraph really sing.

Ama gonna check this one out.

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