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These Mortal Remains by Milton T. Burton
Cover Artist: Photos: Jeremy Woodhouse / pixelchrome.com
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250006387
Date: 16 July 2013 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Publisher's Author's Page / Show Official Info /

In Caddo County of Central East Texas, Sheriff Bo Handel is investigating a violent crime wave. An elderly WWII vet, Dual Driggers, has shot and killed two robbers at the Royal Coffee Shop. Several months later, he is found strangled in his home. The MO is similar to that of the unsolved strangulation death of Aaron Webern. A young girl, Crystal Henderson, is reported missing and presumed dead. The black chief deputy, Toby Parsons, has been shot and lies comatose. All of these crimes appear connected to the building of a white supremacist compound in Caddo County.

Milton T. Burton's These Mortal Remains is an action-packed sequel to his earlier novel, Nights of the Red Moon. I was grabbed in the opening chapter when two meth head thugs are shot to death by an old coot when they attempt to rob the Royal Coffee Shop in Caddo County. From that moment onward, there is one violent scene after another. The shooting of Parsons sparks a lot of racial strife; consequently, a Reverend Al Sharpton-like character, Reverend Lucas Dawkins, descends upon the town, seeking the media in order to spread hatred and discontent. Meanwhile, Sheriff Handel questions Dr. Afton Spencer, who is building a neo-Nazi compound; his racist and pro-abortion beliefs are so extremely outlandish that they incited anger within me.

These Mortal Remains has an extremely complex, multi-character plot. One might say there are too many characters. However, they are all unique and vital to the plot. A multi-agency task force, consisting of local police and DPS, FBI, DEA, and ATF, unite in order to raid the Branch Davidian-like compound where neo-Nazis are believed to be storing illegal firearms. The novel provides a lot of description on police procedures when it comes to performing raids, specifically on bars and compounds.

Not only does Milton know how to write about hard-hitting violence, but he is very adept at pulling heart strings. I became teary-eyed when one character passes away during a shootout.

Besides violence, the novel contains a lot of romance and family drama. We learn that Sheriff Handel is dating the much younger Carla Wallace, his former deputy who is now a PI. We learn more about his family; for example, his son, Keith, a thoracic surgeon, is moving back home because his wife, Kristen, is a compulsive spender who has bankrupted them. Sheriff Handel's niece, Sheila Warbeck, is still a reporter for the Daily Sentinel. Most importantly, we learn that Sheriff Handel is a pianist who majored in music but never graduated because, when his father died, he had to come home to run the family business and take care of his mom who was stricken with MS. Needless to say, Sheriff Handel is hero material.

This novel also has its humorous moments. Sheriff Handel refers to stingy, cantankerous, elderly Lester Prichard and his cronies as the DPS, not the Department of Public Safety, the Dead Pecker Society. They sit at the Texan Café and grumble and complain while drinking free coffee; but they provide the sheriff with an invaluable source of gossip. However, never mess with a member of the DPS. One never knows when they might be packing some heat. I would put Dual Driggers in that group. Two thugs are shocked when one pulls a gun on them. After all, these elderly citizens know they are near the end of their lives and don't have much to lose if convicted of manslaughter.

Why do intelligent people, who are provided with many opportunities and advantages, choose to become criminals? This question is explored throughout the plot. Jasper Sparks, a character who returns from one of Burton's earliest novels, The Sweet and the Dead, has an extraordinary high IQ but was a ruthless villain before becoming a snitch. The ultra-racist Dr. Afton Spencer is also highly educated. In the end, it is believed that people, no matter how much they are intellectually gifted, choose to perform evil deeds because they enjoy evilness.

These Mortal Remains was published posthumously. After reading it, I must loudly proclaim that the Great Sheriff in the sky called Milton T. Burton home too soon. His legion of fans will greatly miss him. Fortunately, Burton left them with another awesome piece of Texas noir that is highly recommended.

Fans who crave more Texas noir may want to check out the outstanding novels written by promising new author, Tricia Fields (The Territory, Scratchgravel Road and the soon-to-be-published Wrecked). They chronicle the adventures of police chief Josie Gray as she protects the small border town of Artemis from Mexican drug cartels and local miscreants.

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