Welcome to Shenandoah Springs, Virginia, the bucolic small town where Brynn MacAlister keeps cows, churns cheeses—and is sharper than the ripest cheddar when it comes to solving mysteries . . . With a foster cow in her corral and a new calf on the way, Brynn MacAlister has a lot on her plate. Especially since her micro-dairy farm is hosting the first annual cheesemakers contest at this year’s summer fair. A relative newcomer, Brynn’s hoping the contest becomes a tradition, bonding her even more strongly to the community. But when a mysterious tractor accident looks suspiciously like murder, Brynn suspects someone is up to no-gouda . . . Some folks say the lead suspect was just defending his underage daughter from a suitor more mature than a vintage provolone, but Brynn isn’t buying it. Especially when another dead body turns up and Brynn’s top cheesemaker falls under suspicion. It’s enough to make a girl bluer than her best Stilton. But not enough to stop Brynn from getting to the bottom of things. What she discovers is the small town harbors some pretty unsavory characters. And the closer Brynn gets to the killer, the deeper she gets into danger . .
Having read Book 1 of the series, I snatched this one up when it became available as an ARC as I really enjoyed the rural farm setting and the animals. In Book 1, protagonist Brynn MacAlister moved to the bucolic Shenandoah Springs property with funds from her grandmother’s passing. Buttermilk Creek Farm includes the main house, guest house, and barns with three resident Red Devon dairy cows, Petunia, Marigold, and Buttercup. Unfortunately, Petunia gave birth to a stillborn calf and went into an extended mourning period. Now one of the other cows is pregnant.
Wes stayed to live with her in the guest house after his grandmother died in a fire in an adjacent property and brought with him youthful skills and enthusiasm as well as being media savvy. There is a resident kitty in the main house and Freckles, the dog, was a rescue from one of the main support characters, the local vet, Schuyler. This time Schuyler arrives with a Highland cow, orphaned when his elderly owner passed away. Brynn promises to “foster” the cow until the vet can find a forever home, but you know what will happen with that one.
They are excited about the county fair in which Brynn has organized a cheese competition until an accident on a local farm turns out to be one of murder. The owner’s tractor went all AI on him and it ran over a summer worker. He is the first person of interest but then Wes takes the honor when it appears his gun is involved in a second murder. Now it gets nasty, with Wes being Pakistani, taking on racist overtones. Ransom ware begins to hit after Brynn has a severe accident of her own and the cheese competition turns real blue.
Brynn’s sister, Becky comes to help her after she’s out of the hospital and there is strong support to help with the cows. But what is going on in the community? Small town, southern attitudes harbor sides she hadn’t previously seen and she’s determined to clear Wes even as his father and brother come to his aid as well. She and Becky have a loving, supportive relationship, and Jewel the Highland cow while terribly shy is slowly becoming acclimated.
Sifting through the twists and red herrings, it’s still hard to grapple with who might be behind all the mayhem. Is it all even connected? While they keep negating the role that Chelsea plays as a sixteen-year-old, she certainly isn’t an innocent. And while she presents one major theme, the racist theme falls heavily throughout the narrative.
“There was nothing worse than the disappointment in people who turned out not to be who you thought they were.”
I really enjoy Brynn, the support characters, and the appealing locale. Brynn is compassionate and fiercely loyal. She has an affinity for the animals that is a delight and her passionate approach to artisan cheeses and the farm to table movement is inspiring. My quibble would be the rehashing and overhashing of the major plot points. There is a darker overtone to this well-plotted novel with topical arguments behind the main plot (mostly resolved in conclusion) that I found a bit disturbing. And, of course, there are a number of recipes which have appeal. A strong mystery, engaging characters, and only periodic sagging in pace, recommended as a fun, cozy mystery. Looking forward to Book 3.
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, Cozy Animal Mysteries
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print Length: 290 pages
Publication Date: To be released August 25, 2020
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Rosepoint Publishing: Four of Five Stars
The Author: Mollie Cox Bryan writes cozy mysteries with edge and romances with slow, sweet burn. The first book in her new mystery series, “Cora Crafts Mysteries.” is DEATH AMONG THE DOILIES, which was selected as “Fresh Fiction Not to Miss” and is a 2017 Finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award. The second book, NO CHARM INTENDED, was named a Summer 2017 Top 10 Beach Read by Woman’s World. She also wrote the Agatha-award nominated Cumberland Creek Mysteries. Several of the books in that series were short-listed for the Virginia Library People’s Choice Award. She’s also penned a historical fiction: MEMORY OF LIGHT: AN AFTERMATH OF GETTYSBURG and historical romance: TEMPTING WILL MCGLASHEN. She makes her home at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley, Va.
©2020 V Williams