Elderberry Wine

Spunky Ladies to the Rescue

Foal Play by Kathryn O’Sullivan (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 258 pages)

Foal Play

Colleen’s heart raced. It was unusual for Sparky to run after someone unless he was feeling threatened or protecting his territory. If the man was the person who had burned and dumped the body that has washed up on the beach, she had no doubt he’d harm a dog.

The setting for this debut mystery is a small town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Colleen McCabe is the Corolla town fire chief. She and her border collie Sparky are familiar figures around town. The locale is steeped in traditions; however, a spunky female in the fire chief’s job is not exactly traditional. Colleen has 15 years of firefighting experience and is well qualified for her job. It’s only when she steps over the line and begins investigating a murder that she irritates Sheriff Bill Dorman. There are plenty of subsequent crimes to keep the reader’s attention.

To Ms. O’Sullivan’s credit, the character relationships in this most entertaining novel are longstanding as evidenced by the way she sets up her scenes and describes the interplay that takes place among the townspeople. O’Sullivan has a confident, easy writing style that draws the reader into the quaint town of Corolla and the wide range of activities that take place there. The area is home to a herd of wild horses and there is a strong commitment by some locals to protect the herd. The Lighthouse Wild Horse Preservation Society officers are often at odds with tourists. There’s plenty of tension what with the horses, arson fires and deaths!

Well recommended.

Something Borrowed, Someone Dead: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M. C. Beaton (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 291 pages)

Something Borrowed (audio)

She had a “county” voice and manner reminiscent of Maggie Smith playing the part of the dowager in Downtown Abbey. She had large hands and feet and a slim flat-chested figure dressed in a faded cotton shirt-waister. A large collagen-enhanced mouth dominated her face. Her hair was iron grey and cropped short.

This witty and biting tale is the most recent in a very long list of Agatha Raisin mysteries. Agatha is an aggressive and outspoken 50-something divorcee who operates a detective agency. The tales are set in modern day England but these are by no means the fussy old lady-type stories a la Miss Marple. Stuffy butlers or reticent townspeople rarely put off Agatha. She has infinite patience as she badgers the inhabitants of a Cotswold village.

Agatha works diligently to solve the murder of a very outgoing newcomer to the village who is murdered with elderberry wine. The victim, Gloria French, had a nasty habit of borrowing from her neighbors. We’re not dealing with a cup of sugar or flour; rather, Gloria borrowed and kept furniture, jewelry and other valuable items. Close on the heels of this murder come several more. Agatha and her staff are kept busy checking out the theft victims, like Lady Framington who is described above.

Ms. Beaton always delivers a charming and edgy story. This one is no exception!

Well recommended.

Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble: A Mystery by Mignon F. Ballard (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 262 pages)

Miss Dimple Picks

Back across the pond in rural Georgia in time is the World War II era and the spunky lady detective is Miss Dimple Patrick. Miss Dimple’s fourth adventure in prolific author Ballard’s series centers around the disappearance of the prettiest and sweetest girl in town, Prentice Blair. Prentice has recently broken off a two year relationship with Clay Jarrett, whose family own the peach orchard and fruit stand where Prentice has been working during summer vacation.

The characters are mostly women as the men are off fighting in the war. The basics of life – baking, canning and rationing gasoline and sugar, are always present in the action and dialogue. This may seem quaint and a bit odd for a reader who is under the age of 50. This reviewer has seen rationing stamps and heard stories of mended stockings. I’m not sure it would make sense to a younger reader.

Blair’s friends and former teacher Miss Dimple make it their mission to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Along the way, the town drunk and loony old lady go missing as well. For such a small town, the happenings seem highly improbable.

Recommended to a nostalgia-seeking older audience or a curious younger one.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

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