I’m predisposed to be a big fan of historical mysteries set in unusual places or times, and The Texas Job qualifies on both counts – I’m definitely unaware of any other mysteries set in the 1930-ish early days of the East Texas oil boom! Reavis Z Wortham’s prequel (of sorts) to his Red River series is really enjoyable both for its detailed, but never boring, background, and for its Western-themed plot: a solo lawman, usually with some issues/past of his own, rides his horse into a town with problems and fixes said problems, often at considerable personal loss to himself. Although this is sort of a standard trope, there’s a reason tropes are tropes – they work. And this one in this author’s hands works really well.
As the story opens, a young Tom Bell, who appears much later as a retired Texas Ranger in the Red River books, is looking for a fugitive murderer. But he soon finds himself in the midst of much more. While he’s riding his skittish rented horse into the oil town of Pine Top, a young mixed-blood boy tumbles out of the woods and tells him there’s a dead person a mile or so off the road. With the boy’s help, Tom finds the body, but the death is dismissed by the local sheriff with the excuse that the woman is “just an Indian”. From this small beginning, things start moving. Shady characters tend to gather where there’s easy money to be had, and Pine Top is no exception. Mobsters are after the land, or rather, the oil under the land, and somehow Bell, and the young boy, and Bell’s new girlfriend, end up in the middle of it all.
The Texas Job is a thoroughly engaging blend of historical mystery and western, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes either! It’s well worth the five-stars I’m giving it. The only downside some readers might find is that the casual racism and violence can be a bit tough at times. I suspect, however, that they are representative of the time and place, and I settled for being quite glad I didn’t live there then. I also really appreciated the Author’s Note at the end, which provided additional background – and also a bit of fun insight into the author’s book-plotting methods. (If it’s that easy, though, why couldn’t I ever come up with plots when in Creative Writing class?) And finally, my thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for the advance review copy.