“Winning Texas” is the second thriller from former Charlotte Observer reporter Nancy Stancill featuring fictional Houston Times journalist Annie Price.
It picks up a few years after the events in “Saving Texas,” Stancill’s debut, but you needn’t have read one to enjoy the other.
Price is an editor now, working with an understaffed investigative team at the money-troubled Houston Times and missing reporting. Her chance to get out of the office comes when one of her reporters is murdered.
But who’s behind it? Could it be the strip club owner he was looking into? Or the man’s mysterious Brazilian girlfriend? Or maybe it has something to do with a group pushing to turn Texas Hill Country into a German Texas enclave?
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The senator behind the effort says it’s about cultural identity and economic development, but Annie isn’t so sure.
Into the plot, Stancill mixes a missing teenager (daughter of a former gubernatorial candidate), smuggled Albanian strippers, illegal gambling and the growing remnants of the Texas secessionist movement, which caused so much trouble in her first book.
Full disclosure time: Stancill is the sister of N&O higher education reporter Jane Stancill. I’ve never met Nancy Stancill, but I’d say her years in journalism, including a stint at the Houston Chronicle, serve her well.
She captures a newsroom’s camaraderie and angst (though mercifully leaving out much of the drudgery), while her descriptions of Houston and the whole of Texas make you feel the heat and see its beauty.
She takes some journalistic license by having Annie sleep with a cop who’s her source (that would be an ethical no-no), but I like that Annie has a messy life (she drinks a bit too much, falls for the wrong men) and two cats.
Oh, and another quibble: She wraps up that investigative story before most newsrooms would have had their first meeting about it.
Stancill keeps the pace fast and the characters coming – at first I thought I was going to need to jot down notes to keep up with them. But she expertly weaves reporters, strippers, smugglers and gamblers in and out of the story so you never have to remind yourself who’s who. And then she pulls the threads together for a satisfying ending.
But instead of tying everything up, that ending promises more on the way — which is something to look forward to.
By Nancy Stancill
Black Rose Writing, paperback, 230 pages