by Bill Crider
half in love
Published in 2014 by Minotaur Books.
Reviewed by Manning Wolfe.
What a hoot! Bill Crider’s 21st Dan Rhodes Mystery, Half in Love with Artful Death, had me curious and chuckling from amusing antics, including Sheriff Rhodes’ roping of donkeys on the highway to a man-friend’s discussion of low testosterone to a naked woman running around a rest stop. All this occurs within the light-hearted setting of Clearview, Texas, a small community with a struggling downtown and a mega Wal-Mart.
These shenanigans are going on while Rhodes is solving the murder of a local curmudgeon, Burt Collins. Collins’ “artful death” was brought about when his head was bashed in with a bust of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The sculpture later shows up at the local art gallery, and Sheriff Rhodes must discover who put it there to solve the crime. Clues along the way allow the reader to guess whodunit as the mystery evolves.
The murder occurs during the local art show and contest after some of the exhibitor’s paintings were vandalized. Collins had been accused of the property damage due to his incessant complaining about having the artists in town.  Public rioting, (which is more like a social gathering featuring a shoving match), is the vehicle Crider employs to showcase the possible suspects.
Crider does a good job planting enough red herrings to keep us wondering. The slow start is probably necessary to re-acquaint the delinquent reader, or to initiate the new reader, to the series. Once the murder occurs, Crider picks up the pace and keeps moving. He implements the simple cozy style, which downplays sex and violence and ramps up humor. The socially intimate community becomes a character itself, revealed during the soft-boiled tactics of the Sheriff and his band of local blundering characters. The never-ending dilemmas that Sheriff Dan faces keep the book moving while adding many opportunities for comic relief.
Although this book is my first read in the series, it is easy to see why Crider has had a following through twenty prior Dan Rhodes mysteries. The characters could easily become beloved friends in the vein of Stephanie Plum’s sidekicks or Kinsey Millhone’s neighborhood buddies, especially to the lover of cozies. Cute inside jokes and references to prior Sheriff Rhodes’ dilemmas serve these long time fans. There’s no need to go back to the beginning to start reading the series – just jump in anywhere. Half in Love with Artful Death would be a fine place to start this summer, maybe while on a plane ride or in a beach chair.
Manning Wolfe is a writer, attorney, and consultant residing in Austin, Texas. After many years of storytelling, Manning has recently begun a legal thriller series involving a Texas attorney based in Austin. The first in the series, Texas Lady Lawyer vs. Boots King was the winner of the 2014 Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest – Mystery Division. A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, she specializes in business law. See her website www.manningwolfe.com for more information.

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