The Red River Mysteries of Reavis Z. Wortham
March 12, 2018
Wortham has created an authentic American hero who will put you in mind of the best heroes and antiheroes you’ve ever experienced.
I had the privilege to meet Reavis Z. Wortham last Saturday when he spoke at the Silver Leos Writers Conference on the campus of Texas A&M Commerce.
Reavis is a great storyteller.
He has great stories to tell.
And his Red River Mysteries are as raw, as gritty, as haunting as the unforgiving Texas landscape that surrounds the serial killers, kidnappers, and murderers who prowl the backwoods and back roads of the river country.
The stories are memorable. They work their way into your psyche like the thorn of a prickly pear. His characters are the kind you can’t forget nor ever want to.
The Rock Hole
In 1964, farmer and part-time Constable Ned Parker combine forces with John Washington, the almost mythical black deputy sheriff from nearby Paris, to track down a disturbed individual who is rapidly becoming a threat to the entire small Texas community of Center Springs.
When Ned is summoned to a hot cornfield one morning to examine the remains of a tortured bird dog, he finds a dark presence in their quiet community. A farmer by trade, Ned is usually confident when it comes to handling moonshiners, drunks and domestic disputes. But the animal atrocities turn to murder, and the investigation spins beyond his abilities.
After a dizzying series of twists, eccentric characters and dead-ends, Ned’s friend, cranky Judge O.C. Rains, is forced to contact the FBI. Worse, sinister warnings that his family has been targeted by the killer lead Ned to the startling discovery that he knows the murderer very well. After the failed abduction of his precocious grandchildren Top and Pepper, the old lawman becomes judge and jury to end the murder spree in the Red River bottomlands.
With a heart-pounding pace, country humor and a stunning climax speaks to the darkness in us all. In bald-headed pot-bellied Ned Parker, Wortham has created an authentic American hero who will put you in mind of the best heroes and antiheroes you’ve ever experienced.
The year 1964 was the end of an era in Center Springs, and the climax may well shock your civilized sensibilities.
Lyndon B. Johnson is President, Beatlemania is in overdrive and gasoline costs 30 cents a gallon when Ned Parker retires as constable in Center Springs, Texas. But his plan to live a quiet life as a cotton farmer is torpedoed. A phone call leads Ned to a body in the Red River and into the urgent investigation headed by his nephew, the newly elected constable Cody Parker. Together they work to head off a multi-state killing spree that sets northeast Texas on fire.
As the weeks pass, Ned’s grandchildren, ten-year-old Top and his tomboy cousin Pepper, struggle with personal issues resulting from their traumatic experiences at the Rock Hole only months before. They now find themselves in the middle of a nightmare for which no one can prepare.
Cody and Deputy John Washington, the law south of the tracks, follow a lead from their small community to the long-abandoned Cotton Exchange warehouse in Chisum. Stunned, they find the Exchange packed full of the town’s cast-off garbage and riddled with booby-trapped passageways and dark burrows. Despite Ned’s warnings, Cody enters the building and finds himself relying on his recent military experiences to save both himself and Big John. Unfortunately, the trail doesn’t end there and the killing spree continues…
Burrows ended as 1965 drew to a close with Constable Cody Parker’s frightening precognition of gathering storm clouds for the tight-knit Parker family from Center Springs, Texas. Now, in The Right Side of Wrong, the dreams proved accurate. Cody is ambushed and nearly killed on a lonely country road during an unusually heavy snowfall. With that attack, the locals begin to worry that The Skinner, from The Rock Hole, has returned.
Constable Ned Parker struggles to connect a seemingly unrelated series of murders as his nephew recovers. As the summer of 1966 approaches, rock and roll evolves to reflect the increasing unrest in this country and the people of northeast Texas wonder why their once peaceful community has suddenly become a dangerous place to live.
Ned’s pre-teen grandchildren, Top and Pepper, are underfoot at every turn. The two lawmen, along with the deputy John Washington, cross paths with many colorful characters originally introduced in Wortham’s acclaimed Red River series: cranky old Judge O.C. Rains, the jittery little farmer Isaac Reader, and the Wilson boys Ty Cobb and Jimmy Foxx.
And then there’s the arrival of the mysterious old man named Tom Bell.
When Cody follows his main suspect across the Rio Grande and into Mexico, Ned understands that to save his nephew, he will have to cross more than a river, he will have to cross over to the Right Side of Wrong.
At the tail end of 1967, the Parker family once again finds it impossible to hide from a world spinning out of control. Fourteen-year-old Top still can’t fit in with their Center Springs, Texas, community or forget recent, vicious crimes. His near-twin cousin Pepper, desperate to escape her own demons, rashly joins the Flower Children flocking to California―just as two businessmen are kidnapped and murdered in the Red River bottoms on the same night a deadly hit and run kills a farmer. Constable Ned Parker wonders if these crimes are connected, but he goes after Pepper, leaving the investigation in the hands of Sheriff Cody Parker.
Parker hires Deputy Anna Sloan, an investigator with an eye toward detail as everyone is eyeing her. Yet it is instinct that propels her after killers through a world nearly forgotten, the hunt’s backdrop one of continuous rain, gloomy skies, and floods. When she’s ambushed, the investigation accelerates into gunfire, chases, and hair-raising suspense.
What of Pepper? Out on Route 66, the Mother Road to California, a man named Crow isn’t what he seems. Lies, deceptions, and a band of outlaw motorcyclists proves to the Parkers that no matter where you turn, no matter what you do, the world is full of such darkness that even grandmothers are capable of unspeakable deeds.
The small, rural Northeast Texas community of Center Springs has seen its share of troubles during the 1960s, everything from kidnapping, murder, and bank robbery.
By 1968, the residents think life has finally quieted down, but they find their peaceful way of life is quickly spinning out of control as a decades-long family feud between the Clays and Mayfields once again flares to life.