Luke McWhorter is one strange dude. He is America’s only sheriff with a Yale divinity school degree. That means he is able to use everything from existential philosophy to holistic psychology to old-time religion to cow-country street smarts as he deals with law and order issues in the obscure “West of Fort Worth” Texas county where he grew up.
During the dreadful autumn week recounted in Dudley Lynch’s debut mystery, McWhorter starts to wonder if even this will be enough. Four religion professors in Flagler’s three small church colleges are murdered on successive days. Sheriff Luke begins to understand that he is dealing with mayhem driven by one of America’s richest men, by Armenian cyber-revolutionaries, by Flagler’s own homegrown power-hungry provocateurs and by back-country caprice itself.
The jolts in Dudley Lynch’s ever-shifting, ever-surprising debut mystery don’t end there. To his near-disbelief, Sheriff Luke eventually realizes that Flagler’s religious colleges have been turned into killing fields by events connected to an astonishing discovery on Mt. Ararat in Turkey (no, it’s not Noah’s Ark).
It will be the rare reader who guesses the final shoe to fall in the autumn week that changes Sheriff McWhorter’s future and the legacy of Abbot County, Texas, forever.
Excerpt from Chapter One of Beliefs Can Be Murder
by Dudley Lynch
I leaned in for a better view. I’d seen photos like this before. Usually, they were taken by an x-ray scanner mounted on a truck. Border patrol agents referred to the vans as “ice cream trucks.” They used them to spot illegals hiding in truckers’ sleeper berths or crouched between cargo shipments back in their trailers. In this x-ray, there didn’t seem to be any humans visible. Only one very large, longish, waist-high crate-looking object with indeterminate contents, if any. A cylinder that looked like a giant thermos bottle. An assortment of smaller boxes. And a jumble of what I took to be tanks, wires, hoses and other items although their vagueness made them hard to identify.
I cleared my throat. “What is it?”
“That’s certainly one of the questions.” Kane continued to gaze at me.
“What’s another one?”
“Where is it?”
As was the case with many conference rooms, ours was like an aquarium. Lots of glass in the wall fronting the hallway. If the blinds weren’t lowered, passers-by could see in and the occupying fishes could see out.
As was my habit, I’d taken a seat that put my back toward the windowless inner wall. This allowed me to monitor activity in the hallway. That was why I was able to notice my long-legged, big-bellied chief deputy, Sawyers Tanner, as he strode by.
On an ordinary day, being briefed about what he found on his trip to a remote corner of Abbot County that morning would have been a priority. He and our C.S.I. team had been dispatched to investigate a gristly scene near a makeshift stone altar that contained the charred leftovers of a rancher’s most prized Angora goat buck. Well, most of the leftovers. The rancher had said the creature’s severed head was lying close by, abandoned in the dirt like a butcher’s bad habit. But my chief deputy’s briefing would have to wait. On this day, priorities were getting juggled.
Then, they got juggled again.
Shortly after Sawyers walked by, he reappeared from the opposite direction. This time, he was running. Hard. Another of my deputies was right on his heels. Both were clutching a Colt AR-15 Tactical Carbine in each hand. Usually, these light-weight, rapid-fire, military-styled rifles were locked up in a gun case. Four of them represented half of our department’s total supply. Our deputies liked them because, as one had once explained it to me, “they can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.” They were never unchained without good reason. Usually, the reason was that some of my people somewhere feared that the guns were going to be needed.
The burly F.B.I. agent hadn’t seen my deputies race by. But the concerned look on my face was all the tip-off he required to the new weather conditions in the room. Getting to his feet abruptly, he headed toward the end of the room where we had a large highway map of West Texas mounted on the wall. He took his brief case with him because he was still attached to it.
That was the precise moment that Helen charged back into the picture. The collision with the startled F.B.I. agent was a hard one, but it only slowed her. She shoved around him like he was a linebacker arriving a step too late and thrust a sheet of paper into my hands. The handwriting on it betrayed no urgency. I hadn’t expected it to. But the same was not to be said for her message. In her usual letter-perfect, schoolmarmish cursive, she had written: “Shooting in Bible Building at Hills U. Sawyers, deputies, paramedics en route. No other details.”
I read the note again—not for meaning but for its implications. Campus shootings were one thing that our department drilled for often with the university security departments in Flagler. A smart, pro-active thing to do, I’d always thought, when you have not one but three institutions of fairly decent size in your otherwise thinly populated, isolated, back-prairie-ish shallow West Texas county. One of the incidents we’d studied exhaustively was the one in Blacksburg. This was the one where a lone gunman had murdered 32 students and wounded 17 more at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. But we’d also combed through law enforcement analyses of the mass shootings at Columbine High, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, the movie theater in Aurora, Umpqua Community College in Oregon and a number of others. There was no reason why such shootings couldn’t happen in Abbot County—the Good Lord knew there were enough guns in the county. Now, it appeared one had.
Getting to my feet, I raised an index finger in the direction of Special Agent in Charge Patrick Kane. Told him that I didn’t mean to be rude, but he had 90 seconds. That was how much time he was being alloted to explain to me exactly why he was here. If he failed to do so, he and his compañeros would be promptly escorted to the parking lot and shown the way to the street. They’d each need a special pass before they’d be allowed to reenter our parking lot, much less our courthouse. Because this was still my conference room, my department, my county and my show.
To his credit, Special Agent Kane didn’t need 90 seconds. He finished in less than a minute.
For added emphasis, he tucked the X-ray photo of the cargo container under his chin with his free hand in his most earnest show-and-tell stance.
“We believe—or rather, we fear—this container is filled with weapons of mass destruction originating with terrorists in the Middle East. We lost track of it in Istanbul 22 days ago. Didn’t know where it was until today. We think it’s in Flagler or close by. The shipping industry’s computerized tracking system shows it was off-loaded in your rail yard about nine this morning by somebody, identity unknown. If we are right, there may be enough destructive power hidden away in your county right now to blow half this place to kingdom come. If not that, to poison nearly everything that breathes for miles around it.”
I studied him for a moment. “Do what you gotta do.” And bolted for the door.
This was quite an interesting book and the concept of a small west Texas town being home to several bible colleges. There isn’t much in west Texas so I thought this was quite intriguing.
Luke may be the sheriff but he never planned to take that position, in face he wanted to be a minister and has a degree in divinity. It makes for an interesting back story for Luke and his dreams and education and I’m not sure it really fits in with being the sheriff…..but he was born into a family of law enforcement so it is hard to escape it at times.
The mystery was not easy to figure out, in fact I didn’t know who the killer was or why. It made sense as the story was winding down and the pieces all came together.
I did enjoy the story and the various story lines that intersected. And of course, the story line with Fresca (a dog) because I love dogs and there are some “oh no” moments when it comes to Fresca.
Overall we give it 4 paws up.
About the Author
Author/journalist/thinking skills expert Dudley Lynch says the abiding themes of all our lives are transition and breakout, which are two very different things.
Mr. Lynch grew up in small towns in the American southern Great Plains and southwestern U.S. He was the son of a fundamentalist Christian minister who moved his family, on average, about as often as military families move.
Dudley’s dad intended to be a transition for his son, expecting him to follow in his footsteps in the church. Instead, the son choose breakout and got (two) degrees in mass communication (with an extra major in religion) and moved into American journalism. For a time, he worked for newspapers, including The Dallas News and the Arizona Republic.
Again, break-out took over. Dudley decided he’d rather write for himself, so he chose to free-lance. In the next ten years, his by-lined articles were published in about 250 periodicals on six continents—Reader’s Digest, Business Week, Newsweek, Fortune Magazine (special sections), The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, The Economist and many others.
In the late 1970s, Reader’s Digest assigned him a story on creativity. Shortly after the story’s publication, a major Manhattan insurance company invited Dudley to stage a half-day seminar in thinking skills improvement for fifteen of its senior executives, and he suddenly found himself at the helm of a management consulting business that he called Brain Technologies Corporation.
Then, more breakout! A voracious life-long consumer of mysteries, Dudley decided to write one about the all-encompassing themes of his life, transition and breakout, and about the mindsets and geographical trappings he knows best: churchy people in the red-dirt prairies and hills of shallow West Texas.
He sees a lot of himself in his POV character, Sheriff Luke McWhorter. Like his creator, McWhorter also trained to be a minister but in making the transition, one break-out after another got in his way. The latest, the murders of four Bible department professors at Flagler, Texas’ three church universities, requires McWhorter to use everything in his experience about transitions and break-outs—and religion—to restore order and a sense of calm to an excessively churchy community that never dreamed its citizens could commit such acts of self-destruction or that it would find itself the target of such mayhem from the outside.
Dudley now lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he and his wife, Sherry, continue to operate their company, Brain Technologies Corporation. He has written his acclaimed LEAP!psych blog for years.