When I learned a novella anthology contained a story by Tina Whittle, I hit buy immediately. I am a fan of the Tai Randolph Mysteries set in Georgia. This story is a prequel of sorts, taking place before the novel series begins - before Tai crosses paths with Trey.
Trouble Like a Freight Train Coming is the first story in the Lowcountry Crime anthology, where Whittle uses setting like a character. We are so immersed in the culture and location of Georgia, the story wouldn't work anywhere else.
We get to spend more time with novel series character Rico, Tai's childhood friend, which is a treat. He locates Tai giving an historical tour in a Savannah cemetery to a group from an upscale retirement home.
"Rico looked nervous, like something was sneaking up on him. He didn't enjoy cemeteries - his Geechee great-grandmother had seen to that. Thanks to her, he wouldn't eat red food cooked by a stranger or give shoes to a guy he was dating. And he didn't truck with the dead."
Rico is also nervous about running into the redneck branch of Tai's family tree. Beauregard Forrest Boone is her disreputable uncle.
"Rumor had it that a black man had saved his life. Another rumor had it that Boone had found Jesus, who told him to cast out his inner bigot. Regardless, Boone was a changed man, in that one aspect anyway. He was still mean as cat shit, and he still kept his fingers deep in Savannah's illicit tradework."
Whittle has an amazing skill with language, creating succinct yet lush scenery descriptions. Her characters are deep south, but they are not caricatures. Each person inhabiting this world is complex, and a reflection of modern reality, not some convenient stereotype of Southerners. She also crafts a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.
The novelette is an official category in the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Derringer Award, from 8,001 to 20,000 words. I'm not sure what the distinction is, if any, between a novelette and a novella, but I suspect the stories in this anthology fit the word count. They are long short stories, requiring just this length - no more, no less.
I look forward to reading the rest of the stories in Lowcountry Crime.
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