Compound Murder by Bill Crider (2013)
Dan Rhodes has had to face a lot during his long career as sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas: emus, wild hogs, and mammoths, not to mention various local politicians, his dispatcher, his jailer, Seepy Benton and the sometimes strange people of his county, including various killers. And in his twentieth full-length outing, it just keeps coming.
As the book opens, Rhodes is in the midst of distrusting a bottle of Mr. PiBB, a most unsatisfactory substitute for his beloved Dr. Pepper, which is no longer being made with real sugar. Shortly after the unopened bottle is (once again) placed in the refrigerator, Rhodes is called out to the local beauty salon to investigate the theft of a number of wigs and extensions. There is a good black market for these items (in Texas, anyway; not so much in southern Maryland where I live); the wig theft comes on top of a rash of copper thefts from unattended buildings and pickup truck gate thefts (also popular items on the black market). Rhodes' morning goes further downhill with the report of a dead body at the local community college.
The dead body belongs to Earl Wellington, an unpopular English teacher at the college. Wellington's head had been bashed in on the corner of a parking lot dumpster early on the morning. A few minutes after Rhodes arrives, a car comes screaming out of the parking lot and speeds away. Rhodes gives chase for several miles before whoever was fleeing runs off the road and crashed into some trees. In the car is Ike Terrell, a young student who had been accused by the dead teacher of plagiarism. Also in the car are the stolen wigs.
Terrill is the son of Able Terrill, a man who distrusts anything to do with the government and who has not left his isolated, fenced-in compound for years. No one is sure how many people are holed up in the compound and stories about Able and his stash of weapons have been circulating the county. Hack and Lawson, Rhodes' dispatcher and jailer, begin to draw comparisons to the John Wayne movie Rio Bravo.
Ike is not the only suspect in the murder. It turns out that there are suspects to spare, both from the compound and from the college itself.
Before the case is over, Rhodes is sent to a widow's home to wrestle a wild hog which isn't; Rhodes adopts another animal for his menagerie (this one with a truly noble name); copper thieves shoot at him; and Rhodes breaks (perhaps bends) his diet as usual.
Dan Rhodes is one of the most likable characters in mystery fiction and the Rhodes books are among the most satisfying. Bill Crider has continually been able to make Rhodes' small-town Texas an important point on the fictional crime map.
Entertaining. Satisfying. Highly recommended.