Chalk Line



Chalk Line

Marion Street Press, September 2011.

Texas detective Ben Gallagher thinks his problems will be over when his younger brother gets out of Huntsville Prison.  But on the day of his brother’s release, Ben discovers the body of the Gallagher family’s dearest friend in his own home.

And in a real way, Ben’s problems are just beginning.

You wouldn’t pick Ben Gallagher for a policeman—especially not a Texas policeman.  Not only is he young, handsome, educated, and an accomplished artist, he’s also heir to a family fortune.  But there’s a reason for his devotion to police work . . .  

Now, the murder of the man who was the closest thing to a father Ben ever knew launches him on a fast slide from his revered rule of law.  It’s bad enough that his superiors order him to stay away from the case—an order he finds impossible to follow.  Worse, the closer Ben gets to the case, the surer he is that his family is implicated.  Torn between loyalties, he embarks on a race to catch a killer that takes him thousands of miles and decades away—to a cold case involving a killer no one would ever think to suspect.

But the case isn’t over yet.  Ben returns home to the shock of his life.  Forced to consider shades of gray he hadn’t known existed, Ben learns that what he has counted on as certain is uncertain—but also that certainty finally isn’t what matters.

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Advance reviews of Chalk Line

“Chalk Line is at once a spellbinding mystery and a serious work of fiction—one that plumbs the meaning of family and explores the wavering line between justice and the law.  A stunning debut from a writer who is going places.”

—Bruce DeSilva, Edgar Award-winning author of Rogue Island 

 “Chalk Line is a smart, snappy, knot-tight novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat and of Paula LaRocque's limber imagination. Nietzsche-quoting detectives, Texas-sized oddballs, delicious family secrets, the hot trail of a killer (and an icy cold one from crimes long ago) – all of these are spun into a chilling (and comical) yarn of murder and mayhem. Chalk Line is guaranteed to startle, to entertain, and to challenge your beliefs about the true nature of justice.”

—Stuart Wilk, producer of the award-winning musical "Yank!"; former managing editor of The Dallas Morning News

“Make way for a big new talent in mystery fiction.  Paula LaRocque writes like a dream, and her story's twists and turns will keep you up at night, turning pages.  When Ben Gallagher is on the case, readers are in for a great treat.”

—Doug J. Swanson, author of the Jack Flippo mystery series and of an upcoming biography of Texas-born casino owner and mobster Benny Binion

“Cops, murderers, and Texas – a great mix from which Paula LaRocque creates an imaginative, gripping story that is sure to delight mystery devotees.”

—Philip Seib, Professor of Journalism and Director of the Center on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California

Booklist Online: Reviews for librarians, book groups, and book lovers—from the trusted experts at the American Library Association

Chalk Line

LaRocque, Paula (author)

Sept. 2011. 304p. Marion Street, hardcover, $24.95

REVIEW. First published September 5, 2011

A case becomes entirely too personal for Arlington, Texas, Chief of Detectives Ben Gallagher in this debut novel. Ben has just been to Huntsville State Prison to pick up his younger brother, Andrew, who is being released after serving 10 years for a death resulting from a drunken college caper, when he finds the murdered body of Dayton Slaughter, the patrician lawyer who has been like a father to both brothers. Handling a case involving someone so close to him strains Ben’s relationships with both his police-chief boss and his grieving mother, as the investigation eventually goes back more than 30 years, uncovering closely guarded family secrets. Gallagher is an anomaly: he’s a talented artist with a doctorate in fine arts who grew up with his mother’s inherited wealth (and drives a new Porsche), and he’s a cop who follows the letter of the law, a stance that is challenged here. LaRocque has created a handful of appealing characters with detailed backstories to begin her series, and it’s well worth getting in at the start.

— Michele Leber

Book review: ‘Chalk Line’ by Paula LaRocque 


Special Contributor

The Dallas Morning News

Published 02 September 2011 05:29 PM

A first novel seldom is easy to write, and the task gets even tougher when the plot involves family intrigues, a rich inheritance, murder and a diverse cast of potential suspects and peripheral players.

 Chalk Line, Arlington writer Paula LaRocque’s absorbing but sometimes uneven debut novel, delivers a complicated, satisfying mystery tale set in Dallas and the mid-cities. A police detective discovers the body of the man he has long considered his father and then fights his department’s restrictions against personal involvement in a case so he can track down the killer. Along the way, he discovers he’s also searching for his own identity.

 The book introduces several noteworthy characters who one hopes will show up again in the next books of the “Ben Gallagher Mystery” series.

Gallagher, for example, is the detective. He’s also an accomplished painter whom the other cops sometime razz as a “boy wonder.” He has decided, idealistically, to stick with law enforcement rather than pursue a career in art or academia after getting his doctorate in fine arts. And he has become chief of detectives before age 30, a timeline that seems unlikely in real life.

 His sensitive eye for art-related details can pick out clues that escape other investigators’ notice. But his rigid fidelity to the law sometimes makes him vulnerable when he has to confront gray areas of justice. And he has recently gained an enemy, an ex-cop whom Gallagher forced into retirement after catching him taking drugs from drug dealers “in return for letting them be.”

 Meanwhile, Gallagher’s investigative partner, Kenechi “Ken” Akundi, is another cop with a doctorate, in chemical engineering. A Nigerian, Kenechi resembles a “large” Sidney Poitier and learned the rule of law’s importance amid violent chaos in Africa. He has a keen nose for odor-based clues and sometimes pontificates despite his “clipped Nigerian accent.” Why he would rather be an Arlington officer than a better-paid engineer is not made convincingly clear.

Two other members of Gallagher’s detective team – Joseph Proudhorse, who is Comanche, and Hilda Cloy, who is gay — are known by other officers as “the odd couple” and are reputed to be their department’s “most successful team.” In Chalk Line, they don’t contribute significantly to solving the murder mystery. But they are adequately set up for further development in the series.

 Chalk Line deftly avoids the easy, larger-than-life “Texas” stereotypes that infect many detective novels set in the Lone Star State. Instead, the book’s plot arises from the self-protective actions of characters with reasonably “normal” quirks.

 The book’s smooth sentences and effective use of detail provide solid reflections of LaRocque’s love of good prose. A former writing coach, editor and columnist for The Dallas Morning News, she is the author of three books on writing. Minor first-novel shortfalls aside, Chalk Line is both an engrossing, entertaining detective tale and a good down payment on future Ben Gallagher mysteries.

Si Dunn, whose mystery Erwin’s Law is available as an ebook, worked briefly at The Dallas Morning News in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Chalk Line, by Paula LaRocque

(Marion Street Press, $24.95)


 Chalk Line, by Paula LaRocque

Reviewer: Jenny Meadows,

            “My own career, business, and livelihood—like Paula LaRocque’s—have to do with the language and using it with expertise.  So I was curious when I heard she had written a novel.  I've known her for decades, as a friend, a writing coach, and author of books about writing.  She’s one the funniest people I know … but could she write a good murder mystery, one that would keep me interested, even put me on the edge of my seat?

            “Boy, could she ever!  Chalk Line’s cast members are not your typical murder mystery characters (though a couple are breathtakingly scary).  They’re delightfully quirky and complex, and their vivid dialogue and Paula’s deft descriptions kept the “movie” running in my imagination.  The short, tight chapters flit from scene to scene, sweeping readers around the book’s hairpin plot turns.

            “For most of her career, Paula has mentored writers on how to write well. With Chalk Line, her debut novel, she shows that she knows exactly what she’s talking about.”

—Jenny Meadows, Austin, Texas,


Chalk Line by Paula LaRocque

Reviewer: Julie Delio, Goodreads:  5 stars

            Beautifully crafted mystery. I am not usually a mystery reader but I was engaged by this book and its well-introduced characters.  I look forward to the next Ben Gallagher Mystery to learn what is happening with Ben and Andrew.

—Julie Delio

Arlington, Texas


Chalk Line by Paula LaRocque

Reviewer: Linda J. Swift, writer, editor, and journalist  

 The colorful characters in Paula LaRocque’s Chalk Line are so well drawn that I felt as if I knew them personally. This murder mystery is a real page-turner, with a deliciously twisty plot that kept me guessing right up to the end. And even my final guess was wrong.

The book has everything that makes a great read: romance, intrigue, dark family secrets, and a liberal sprinkling of laugh-out-loud humor. Events moved along so seamlessly that it took me a while to notice that the story also serves up a thought-provoking examination of situational ethics, loyalty, and trust. 

This is LaRocque’s first mystery novel about Chief of Detectives Ben Gallagher, a lovably flawed hero with a Ph.D. in art, who seems more than a little out of place in a squad room, despite his talent for unraveling the most difficult cases. In Chalk Line, the thread leads him right back to his own family.

I’m anxiously awaiting the next book in the series. 

—Linda J. Swift, writer, editor, and journalist

Bedford, Texas

Chalk Line by Paula LaRocque

Reviewer: Trish Doerrier

Blog: Books, Reviews; also on Goodreads

About the Book:

Chief of Detectives Ben Gallagher thinks life will once again be rosy when his younger brother Andrew is released from prison. But, on the very day Andrew is set free, the brothers discover the body of a lifelong friend, and the murder launches Ben on a fast slide from his revered rule of law. He is soon ordered to stay away from the case, but the closer he gets, the surer he becomes that a family member is somehow implicated. Torn between loyalties, he embarks on a race that takes him thousands of miles and a couple of decades away, leading to a cold case in the north—and to a killer no one would ever suspect.

• • •

          It’s an interesting exercise to read a debut novel by someone who has written so much about writing itself. I had high expectations, and Ms. LaRocque did not disappoint. This book pulled me in from the opening lines:

The best way to get there from Dallas is to go straight down I-45. Takes three hours or so. The terrain’s more rolling and wooded than you might expect, especially around Corsicana. It levels off as you head south, going to heavy underbrush and open fields and farmlands. 

My first thought was, “Where are we going?” and my second thought was, “Why are we going there?” And I kept reading to find out the answers to those questions and to all of the new ones that arose as the story unfolded. The plot had just enough twists and turns to propel me along without being confusing or far-fetched.

         The characters in Chalk Line are a fascinating assortment of people. Of course, we learn a lot about Ben and his family, as this is the first novel in the series and also centers on a crime that occurs close to home, both geographically and emotionally. Ben’s fellow detectives are a predictably diverse group of people in a contemporary novel, yet are presented with enough depth that I am intrigued and eager to know more of their stories. I was also drawn to Ben’s brother Andrew and hope to see more of him in future books as well.

I greatly enjoyed the writing in this book, especially the variety of literary references made by several of the characters. While it wouldn’t go far without a good plot or interesting characters, the quality of the descriptions and the thoughtful consideration of deeper issues takes the book to a higher level. Ben, in particular, faces personal challenges about trusting others and navigating the gray areas of life.

All said, this is an impressive debut, and I am eagerly anticipating more Ben Gallagher mysteries!

—Trish Doerrier, Blogger: “In So Many Words"



Chalk Line: A Ben Gallagher Mystery

By Paula LaRocque

The Feathered Quill Book Reviews; also on Goodreads

Reviewer: Mary Lignor

Ben Gallagher is the Chief of Detectives in the Dallas Police Department. Ben is not your usual police detective. He is very young, handsome and an artist to boot. Ben is also an heir to a family fortune that will keep him in food and shelter for many years to come. He lost his father in the Vietnam War and his younger brother has been incarcerated in Huntsville Prison, in Texas for ten years due to a college prank that turned bad. Ben is devoted to the law and sees everything in shades of black and white (no grey areas). As the story opens, Andrew (Ben's brother) is paroled and Ben has picked him up and taken him back to their mother's home for a celebration to toast Andrew's new life.



Shortly after arriving the two men find the body of their friend Dayton Slaughter, the family lawyer and a second father to them both. Also, he just happens to be the man their mother was about to marry. The body is found in Ben's house so his superiors take Ben off the case because Dayton is a family friend and Ben is too close to the investigation. This decision is a hard one for him to follow. Ben, contrary to his personality, is breaking rules right and left to try and answer some hard questions about his own family, as he is afraid that a family member is involved. Torn between loyalty to his family and his job, he races to find the killer before he has to abandon the case.


The final solution to the case will make Ben think about considering some of the shades of grey that he always discounted. Ben's loyalty is definitely called into account as he is pulled into some sticky situations while trying to work on Dayton's case. What and who he has always counted on for help and advice just might not work any more.

This is a mystery that will thrill the reader, written by a new talent in the mystery field. The story offers many twists and turns in the plot to keep readers awake all night, if need be, flipping pages until you reach the end.

• • •

Quill’s Conclusions:  Chalk Line is a fascinating whodunit that will keep readers busy changing their minds about the killer. The author knows how to grasp the meaning of family vs. job and family vs. law. A great read, and this reviewer is looking forward to the next book in this series.

—Mary Lignor, Feathered Quill reviewer



Chalk Line by Paula LaRocque

Reviewer: Julie Clark

Blog: Julie Clark Art/ Review Time

After reading The Book on Writing, I was curious to see how LaRocque switches between genres. Plus, it’s summer, and the perfect time for reading something different. 

Instead of giving a detailed play by play, I’ve decided to keep this quick and easy. (Trying to put into practice what I learned from reading The Book on Writing!) 

In brief, Chalk Line is a murder mystery, set in two opposite ends of the country. Now, what did I think of it? Let’s start with my wish list and end with the gifts. Chalk Line took a little longer to for me connect with some of the characters than I like. Plus, my daughter saw me reading it and asked if she could read it after I finished. Due to sprinklings of strong profanity along with a paragraph or two of a sensually graphic nature (which are, admittedly, less than in most novels of this genre), I dissuaded her. This book is intended for adult audiences.

On the flip side, I did enjoy many of the twists and turns the story took. One of the main characters, a sweet dog named Bood, is absolutely adorable. And, honestly, I think it would make for a terrific hit on the big screen. Does she have any desire to see her work turned into a screen play? I have no idea, but I’d love to see it happen, and think Chalk Line makes the beginning of a great series. 

Pick up a copy, read it, and let me know what you think!

—Julie Clark, author & artisan


Chalk Line by Paula LaRocque

Reviewer: Mary Brolley, editor and writer

The opening scene in Paula LaRocque’s “Chalk Line” is unforgettable. A police detective has arrived to collect his younger brother on the day he’s to be released from Huntsville Prison after serving a 10-year sentence.

Why unforgettable? Because of the sly way we are introduced to Ben Gallagher, a brilliant and artistic chief detective in a Dallas suburb, and his restless internal monologue before, during and after the brothers’ reunion. LaRocque achieves this while weaving in a pitch-perfect description of the bare, chilly winter landscape of northern Texas. 

Most of Chalk Line’s action takes place within five exhausting February days, but scenes from many years ago become crucial to the plot. Untangling a decades-old mystery makes for a gripping resolution.

The supporting characters are terrific, especially Gallagher’s beloved but complicated family and his fellow police officers.

LaRocque is a generous and humane writer with a deft touch. She’s sketched an absorbing world, and I hope this is the first of many Ben Gallagher mysteries.

—Mary Brolley

Houston, Texas

Chalk Line by Paula LaRocque

Reviewer: Ginnie Siena Bivona, author and acquisitions editor

            Chalk Line looks like a book but it’s really a movie for the mind. The author’s descriptions of the cast and the scenes brings the story so vividly alive that by the time you finish you’ll know exactly what every one of the characters looks like, what they wear, how they talk, how they act. Even how they think. Some of them you’ll like, some of them you’ll dislike, and a couple of them you’ll really dislike.

            And the plot? Well, the plot is as tangled as an unraveled ball of yarn.  But here’s the best part about this yarn, it’s so well written you will not be able to turn off the light. Seriously, do not take this book to bed. That worn out old cliché  “can’t put it down” is actually the gospel truth this time.

            Detective Ben Gallagher is an honest, hard working guy and he’s good at his job because of his strong values.  But this time reality isn’t quite as tidy as he’d like, he’s going to have to face up to some demons that have been lurking in his past.  And not just his past.  This is definitely a read it again book, and I’m pleased to recommend it.  

—Ginnie Bivona is acquisitions editor for Republic of Texas Press. Her novel Ida Mae Tutweiler & the Traveling Tea Party was adapted for Hallmark TV in 2009.


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