Ted Stephens
Created by Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson

Although it’s set in the early seventies, the hard, tight Mississippi Vivian by Bill Crider and the late Clyde Wilson actually brings to mind an earlier era -- it actually reads like some long-lost Fawcett Gold Medal paperback from the late fifties.  And that’s high praise indeed.

In fact, the taut, chip-on-the-shoulder vibe created by mystery author Crider and Wilson, a real life private eye, recalls nothing so much as the efforts of Wade Miller, the pen name for the celebrated writing team of Bob Wade and Bill Miller, who put out more than their fair share of hard-boiled classics back in the day (including one of my all-time favorites: the Max Thursday series).

Texas-based insurance investigator TED STEPHENS (first introduced as a troubled cop in 2007's Houston Homicide) journeys to hot, sticky Losgrove, Mississippi to look into a string of suspicious work injury claims, and soon finds himself immersed in a deep steaming pile of small town corruption, deceit and dirty secrets that will take more than a motel room shower or two to clean off. This is retro pulp at its best – clear, clean prose; vibrant characters (the cranky, contrary waitress who gives the book its title is a hoot); a finely rendered setting (Ted likens Losgrove air to breathing warm cotton); a stripped down narrative that rockets along and a terse, business-like and laconic narrator whose navel-gazing fortunately never extends much past his on-going complaint that nobody ever seems to laugh at his jokes.

But readers eager for some no-frills private eye action will certainly go for this one. Alas, with Wilson’s passing in 2008, we may have seen the last of Stephens. Say it ain’t so, Bill.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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