Sanderson pens fourth novel in Southwest suspense saga
The gang’s all here and holding court in a San Antonio ice house, swapping secrets, lies and memories – little suspecting murder will be their next topic of conversation. In Lamar University professor Jim Sanderson’s hometown, the places and patina of the city share literary lure with players who have lived in the author’s fictional world for more than two decades.
Sanderson’s saga of murder, mayhem and richly defined heroes and anti-heros takes another intriguing turn with “Dolph’s Team,” published recently by Ink Brush Press. It’s the fourth in a series of novels in which his colorful cast of characters travel from the borderlands of West Texas to the riverbanks, back streets and swanky/not-so-swanky neighborhoods of the Alamo City.
“San Antonio is, indeed, a character in ‘Dolph’s Team,’” wrote one reviewer. “Sanderson’s San Antonio clearly evokes his south-side upbringing.”
With “Dolph’s Team,” Sanderson spins off a storyline that includes “El Camino del Rio,” set in the Big Bend and which introduced the reader to the title character, Dolph Martinez, along with “Safe Delivery” and “La Mordida.”
A Lamar faculty member since 1989, Sanderson is professor of English and director of writing. A member of the prestigious Texas Institute of Letters, he is the author of five novels, two short-story collections, a book of essays, a textbook and dozens of short stories, essays and scholarly articles. Lamar honored him as University Scholar in 2006 and Distinguished Faculty Lecturer in 2002.
“I belonged to Texas, or, rather, I couldn’t escape it,” Sanderson told his lecture audience. His heroes have always been cowboys, and, barring the possibility of becoming one, he makes them characters in his novels as he “herds words,” to borrow Pulitzer Prize-winner Larry McMurtry’s definition of writing.
“To write about Texas is to write about life on borders – the border with Mexico, the border between the not-so-good old days and the questionable future and the often confusing border between the good guys and the bad guys,” said reviewer Beth Hadas of the University of New Mexico Press. “Jim Sanderson has been writing on those borders for years, and, if you have enjoyed his bittersweet crime fiction, you will love ‘Dolph’s Team.’ Read it to catch up with the unforgettable characters from his earlier books in their travels across the Lone Star State.”
The scenario in “Dolph’s Team” is this: Semi-retired and drinking with his buddies, former Border Patrol agent Dolph Martinez gets a cause when one of his cronies is murdered in the restroom of Big John’s Ice House – and the team is there to witness the aftermath.
“When Dolph gets a cause, he gets spooky. And when Dolph is spooky, his friends get hurt. When his drinking buddy gets killed and Dolph turns spooky, his aging friends follow him anyway,” Sanderson said. “They chase bad guys and a very bad woman in a bug-exterminating truck and in a mini-van escorted by Apache scouts on motorcycles. People get hurt.”
Sanderson explains: “In this novel, as in ‘Safe Delivery,’ we see the bad guys and know the plans. So this is a suspense novel rather than a mystery. As one critic said, ‘Dolph’s Team’ has all the plot points of a suspense novel, but it is actually a meditation on aging.’”
And he offers a disclaimer: ‘Way back before I had a clue about how plots and characters and stories come into being for me, I swore that I would never write sequels. So I wrote stories about them. I have recurring characters and locales show up in all my stories and novels. Also, I’ve thought that fiction works better than other narrative forms in showing time. It can show us how the past is immediately in the present. So I wanted to watch characters as they grew older.”
Sanderson started writing “El Camino del Rio” 20 years ago and, thus, he has had a long relationship with Dolph Martinez. When “Camino” won the 1997 Frank Waters Award and was subsequently published by University of New Mexico Press, the editor asked if he had a sequel.
“The closest I had was ‘Safe Delivery, published in 2000. It was Jerry Johnson and Joe Parr’s story, but it shared a major character with ‘El Camino del Rio’: Vincent Fuentes. Then, pressing onward, I wrote ‘La Mordida’ for UNM Press,’ and it was published in 2002.
“Now, 10 years or more later, the characters from the series – Jerri, Dolph, Pooter, Pepper – and some new ones – Walter Boone from “Faded Love” – are getting older. They are hunkered down on the south side of San Antonio, drinking beer at an old ice house. Jerri is now a private investigator for lawyers and is involved in city politics. Dolph works for her part time. When one of their drinking buddies is murdered right in front of them, Dolph gets his team together and, using Walter’s bug-exterminating truck, they spy on the bad guys.”
Jennifer Ravey, of thepickygirl.com blog, writes: “Nearer James Lee Burke than Joe Lansdale, ‘Dolph’s Team’ is part border-town mystery and part road trip, reminiscent of ‘Lonesome Dove.’ Dolph’s crew doesn’t always follow the letter of the law in a world where pre-paid funerals are no joke. As Dolph says, ‘Once you give up decency and honesty,’ you’re on your own, and all of the beer-guzzling and bull-shooting won’t protect him from the harsh reality of modern Texas.”
Sanderson’s most recent story collection, “Faded Love,” was a finalist for the 2010 Texas Institute of Letters’ Jesse Jones Award for the best work of fiction by a Texan or about Texas. Another collection, “Semi-Private Rooms” earned the 1992 Kenneth Patchen Award, and “Safe Delivery” was a finalist for the Writers’ League of Texas 1000 Violet Crown Award. Sanderson also is the author of the historical novel “Nevin’s History,” an essay collection “A West Texas Soapbox” and a composition textbook, “Way’s of Writing: A Writer’s Way.”
“Dolph’s Team” is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
The University of New Mexico Press plans to release “El Camino del Rio,” “Safe Delivery” and “La Mordida” in electronic format, Sanderson said.