Wednesday, September 23, 2015

No bull—Ben Rehder’s “Bum Steer” is an entertaining read

This review was published in the
Sept. 18 edition of the Boerne Star
     When Billy Don Craddock shoved $142,000 in chips onto a Vegas casino blackjack table, his good buddy Red O’Brien felt like the quart of cheap beer in his stomach was going to erupt. Half of the money that Billy Don just bet belonged to Red. When Billy Don first bragged to Red a few months ago that he was a damn good blackjack player, Red thought it was liquor talking. After playing a few hands, however, Red became convinced that Billy Don had been harboring a very lucrative gambling talent that could lift them from their run-down trailer trash existence into a life of luxury and leisure.
     When Billy Don was sixteen, his father took him to Vegas. “My old man drug me along ‘cause he said I was a better player than he was,” Billy Don explained to Red, “and he was right. See, you learn when to hit and when to stay, when to split, double down, and all that stuff. There are charts you can memorize that tell you what to do. But there are other times when you’re operating on nothing more than a gut feeling. Sometimes you gotta go with it. I was always good at that part.”
     Billy Don was good at adding numbers in his head, too. His dad made him deal cards for hours at a time. Even though Billy Don hated doing it, he humored his dad and even passed math that year because he had learned to add numbers at a phenomenal clip.
     In true Ben Rehder style, Bum Steer, the ninth installment of his rollicking Blanco county mysteries, is a tribute to Texas hillbilly humor. There are numerous unpredictable plot twists and turns that keep the story going at breakneck speed. Rehder’s cast of memorable characters reappear in this latest novel, but “Bum Steer” is a stand-alone story that does not require reading the previous books.
     Three weeks before Billy Don’s and Red’s foray into the Vegas world of glitz, glamour, and gambling, Rodney Bauer’s red Brangus bull is shot dead in the middle of the night. As if that is not bad enough, a deceased young woman is discovered underneath the body of the bull and Sheriff Bobby Garza calls in game warden John Marlin to assist in the investigation. Just as expected, they find that the young woman has been gored to death. The evidence suggests that she was not alone with the bull and that someone had attempted to steal the prize steer. And, of course, Billy Don and Red become entangled in a web of murder and mayhem.
     Rehder’s first book in this series, Buck Fever, was nominated for an Edgar award. He has also authored ten “Die Laughing” crime novels and several standalone books including the YA book The Driving Lesson.
     Rehder is recognized for his satirical and irreverent approach to contemporary issues. Much like Carl Hiaasen, his novels parody the circumstances of everyday life. Bum Steer is a delight.