“Nights of The Red Moon.” Milton T. Burton
Years ago I heard a legendary old East Texas sheriff say that he’d let one elderly black moonshiner make about fifty gallons of corn whiskey a year because, as he put it, “He didn’t sell the stuff. He gave most of it away, and it was a matter of art with him rather than profit. Besides, it was damned good whiskey. He gave me a couple of gallons every year.”
Such accommodations are common among rural law enforcement people in my part of the world. Just about every old lawman I ever knew allowed a few bootleggers to operate so long as they didn’t sell to kids, and they turned a blind eye to black working men who had their dice games going in deserted sharecropper shanties every Saturday night. The payoff was that these people had their fingers in the local criminal underworld, and they were expected to pony up the information when the sheriff needed to know who had just burgled the hardware store, of if someone was planning to rob the local jeweler.
So I started thinking about a rural county where this sort of thing still went on. Thus was born Sheriff Bo Handel and his elderly black moonshiner friend, Ira Blevins. Bo’s backstory is that he came from a prosperous timber family, and that he was in Rice University majoring in classical piano forty years earlier when his father’s death in the middle of his senior year necessitated his returning home to take over the family business. A decade later, the longtime sheriff came down with cancer and talked the commissioners’ court into appointing Bo to fill out the remainder of his term. Bo liked the job and has been running every four years since. For anyone who is interested, the original short story, “Old Ira’s Still,” can be found here: http://obscuredestinies.blogspot.com/2009/07/old-iras-still.html
Once I finished the short story, I realized that Bo was too good a character to abandon. Several years earlier I had written a novel about an eighty-one-year-old retired Texas Ranger who goes back to solve his very first case, the disappearance of a wealthy oilman during the early days of the great East Texas Oil Field. The story was told by a young ex-marine friend who accompanied the old Ranger on his travels to unravel the case. My agent could never sell it because the know-it-all gremlins who run the publishing industry said the sidekick narrator was “ineffective.” Never mind that it worked for Arthur Connan Doyle in his Holmes and Watson series, the most famous duo in all crime fiction. Never mind too that these stories are still in print over a century later. The gremlins know all.
So... I had begun a second book with this old Ranger as the protagonist, but abandoned it due to its lack of marketability. I had three chapters and the ending, so it was a simple matter of two hours work to convert it to a Bo Handle book, told in the first person---Nights of The Red Moon, which is slated for release on December 7 by St. Martin’s Minotaur. Pre-release reviews have been universally enthusiastic. I am currently working on a second book with Bo as the protagonist. This will be the second of a series. I was very fortunate to get jacket blurbs from Bill Crider, Dave Corbett, and retired Texas Ranger Captain/U.S. Marshal Jack Dean, for which I am very grateful. I was especially gratified when I got an email from Captain Jack telling me he had gotten his manuscript copy from the publisher at four the previous afternoon and had finished it about ten that evening. It is one thing to satisfy mystery fans, but when a man with nearly fifty years of high-level law enforcement experience tells you he couldn’t put your story down... Well, folks, such a complement is like that Old Time Religion: it just makes you love everybody!
Milton Burton is also the author of THE ROGUES' GAME and THE SWEET AND
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