Address to Attendees at the 2019 PWA Shamus Awards Banquet
By Michael Bracken
Nov. 1, 2019
More than just part of fly-over America, the Lone Star State is home to an incredible diversity of ethnicities, religious affiliations, political persuasions, sexual orientations, and sociological stratification. Located within the confines of the largest of the continental United States are fourteen soil regions, eleven ecological regions, and ten climactic regions, providing for a vast array of settings, from the sprawling urban metroplexes of Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth to the barely populated counties of the Trans-Pecos, from the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas to the Piney Woods of East Texas, from the High Plains of the Panhandle to the three hundred and sixty seven miles of Gulf Coast.
Texans drink a lot of beer, watch a lot of football, and listen to a lot of country music, but the Hill Country around Fredericksburg is one of the top wine destinations in the world, and Texas is home to world-class symphony orchestras, ballet companies, and art museums. With sprawling cattle ranches, Texas is still home to plenty of traditional cowboys, but with both NASA and SpaceX, Texas is also home to the space cowboys leading us beyond the confines of our planet.
Into this abundance of diversity come the eyes—the private eyes—of Texas.
One of the first private eye novels set in Texas, and one of the best private eye novels ever, according to Bill Crider, is James Reasoner’s Texas Wind. Featuring Fort Worth P.I. Cody, Texas Wind is, says Ed Gorman, “one of the finest private eye novels ever,” and this cult classic set the standard for all Texas P.I. novels to come.
Several writers have followed Reasoner’s lead, laying claim to other cities, towns, and regions throughout the Lone Star State.
Glenn Duncan’s Rafferty worked out of Dallas, and Fatal Sisters, the sixth book in the series, earned a Shamus for Best Paperback Original. Paul Bishop called the series “one of the best and most underappreciated hardboiled, wisecracking, private eye series.”
Harry Hunsicker’s Dallas-based Lee Henry Oswald debuted in Still River, which picked up a Shamus nomination. Publisher’s Weekly referred to Oswald’s second outing, The Next Time You Die, as “macho mayhem to the max.”
There are so many P.I.s working Dallas that it’s impossible to throw a fedora without hitting one, so let’s explore a few working the rest of the Lone Star State:
Truman Smith, Bill Crider’s retired Dallas private eye moves to Galveston but can’t leave his profession behind. Dead on the Island, the first Truman Smith Novel, was nominated for the Shamus for Best First Private Eye Novel, and four additional novels followed. Booklist noted that “[f]or pure fun and sheer entertainment, it doesn’t get much better than Crider’s Tru Smith stories.”
Tres Navarre, Rick Riordan’s San Antonio private eye, debuted in the Shamus-winning novel Big Red Tequila. With his third Navarre novel, The Austin Chronicle claimed Riordan “earn[ed] the right to be proclaimed the poet laureate of San Antonio’s mean streets.”
Dixie Flanagan, Chris Rogers’s Houston-based bounty hunter/skip tracer debuted in Bitch Factor. Rogers is lauded by The Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph for her “rapid-fire storytelling style” that “relies largely on crisp, decisive language.”
Lynn Chandler Willis’s P.I. Gypsy Moran started his literary career in the West Texas town of Wink in Wink of an Eye, winner of the PWA/St. Martin’s Press Best First Private Eye Novel Competition and a Shamus nominee.
Jan Grape—“the undisputed doyenne of Austin’s mystery scene,” according to The Austin Chronicle, gave us Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn of the G&G Detective Agency. Featured in several short stories, including the Anthony Award-winning and Shamus Award-nominated “Front Row Seats,” the pair are Houston- and, later, Austin-based private eyes.
Robert L. Fish Award-winner William Dylan Powell’s peg-legged P.I. Billy Raskolnikov and his pet monkey Ringo, featured in several short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, work out of a boat docked in Redfish Bay near Corpus Christi.
And my own Waco-based P.I. Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette has appeared in several short stories.
Edward Mathis’s East Texas P.I. Dan Roman began his literary career when he returns to his hometown, the fictional Butler Wells in From a High Place.
Before I wrap up this quick introduction to the some of the many private eyes who walk the mean—and sometimes dusty—streets of the Lone Star State, I want to thank Jim Doherty and Kevin Burton Smith for their many suggestions. If I’ve mentioned some of your favorites, thank them. If I’ve missed some of your favorites, blame me.
More importantly, I hope you’ll add several novels and short stories about Texas P.I.s to your to-be-read pile. You won’t be disappointed.
So, thanks for visiting Texas, and good luck to all of this evening’s Shamus Award nominees…
- Lone Star Eyes
The Eyes of Texas are Upon You