County of Offenses
Kidnapping, Assault, Vandalism, Insurance Fraud, Criminal Trespass, Other
Known Gang Affiliations
Independent Criminal Enterprise
Date of Offense
I’ve read most, if not all, of Ben Rehder’s books. As much as it pains me to praise a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Rehder is a Lone Star mystery institution. A survivor of the ad industry, he’s been a prominent and prolific Texas novelist for decades now. He’s won all kinds of awards, he was an Edgar finalist and he just keeps cranking out solid work year after year.
I’ve always been a fan of his Blanco County series. Their clever, fun, lighthearted and homespun Texas charm is something I find comforting. Bone Dry was the first one I read, and after that I was hooked. To be honest, I bought Gone the Next without realizing he had another series. I picked up this book when I went with my wife to Half Price to look for a recipe book she wanted and ended up buying a dozen paperbacks on impulse (as you do). I just assumed it was a John Marlin book I’d missed. But this was a very happy accident.
Turns out, I’m just late to the game.
Gone the Next is actually the first in Rehder’s Roy Ballard series. A legal videographer, Roy catches a glimpse of a missing little girl, Tracy Turner, while conducting an insurance fraud stakeout. And without the prospect of my spoiling anything, the police don’t find his account of the sighting very credible because of an incident from his past. So, if Ballard wants to save the missing six-year-old, and bring the kidnapper to justice, he’s on his own.
I thought this book was a lot of fun, and a nice surprise since I didn’t know about the series. It was cool to experience Rehder employing a mix of traditional old-school PI conventions such as the first-person narrative, the smart-aleck dialogue, the roughhousing, the romantic tension with his partner, Mia Madison, and lots of fun plot twists, etc. But he uses these conventions with skill, building on them to make a fresh story that’s compelling and all his own. The book is full of humor, surprises, brisk pacing, recognizable Austin settings, etc. Regarding the urbanization of central Texas, Rehder remarks: “Who needs trees and cattle when you can replace them with a Banana Republic?”
But this book is more than just a bit of sleuthy fun. It also brings up real issues surrounding child kidnapping, such as the phenomenon of the media sensationalizing kidnapping cases involving white, middle class girls (while other similar cases languish). Rehder also touches on the immediate assumption of guilt among the families of missing children, and how the legal machinery of the system can turn against citizens when they’re at their most vulnerable. And he gives some sobering facts surrounding crimes of this nature. All with the right combination of tension and taste.
I think this series will have a lot of longevity, and one reason is the protagonist’s profession. As a legal videographer, his work revolves around depositions, wills, sworn accounts and the like—with a specialty in “proof of insurance fraud.” Talk about a perfect setup for trouble. In much the way police detectives allow readers to peek behind the curtain of official investigations, Roy Ballard is perfectly positioned to let us see directly into the lives of the potentially sketchy. In this book, Ballard also happens to be on parole, and the use of a new PO provides a nice device for character discovery without slowing the pace of the story.
The latest in the series, Book 5, is A Tooth for a Tooth, which released in May of last year. It’s always nice to discover a new series, and this one’s going to be rewarding for mystery readers everywhere. It also hasn’t slowed down his Blanco County series one bit; his latest, Lefty Loosey, dropped just recently in November of 2018.
Verdict: Guilty of bringing lovers of Texas mystery fiction a fun and distinctive series that blends traditional investigative elements with humor, action and exciting twists.
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