A Country Cooking School Mystery

By Paige Shelton

Berkley Prime Crime, 2012 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-425-25161-4

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Betts Winston and Missouri Anna "Gram" Winston are back with some good country cooking and a new ghostly friend in the town of Broken Rope, Missouri. When Betts' best friend, town historian and pretend sheriff, calls and asks for their help to give shelter for the night to a busload of touring foodies, they are quick to oblige. They feed and entertain the group, then arrange for them to stay in a partly-renovated bed-barn-and-breakfast inn. For the most part, the couples seem nice, but there seems to be something strange going on under the surface.

During the night, Betts gets a frantic call from the b&b owner. Three of the travelers are missing. That's bad enough, but things get much worse when one of them is found dead, a noose around his neck, right in front of Jake's office. As the investigation goes on, evidence turns up casting suspicion on him. Betts knows her friend is innocent, and the police doubt his involvement, but he's not telling the whole story.

While this is playing out, Betts finds herself missing her first spirit friend, the outlaw Jerome Cowbender. Gram tells her to move on, but she can't help searching for a hint of the scent of wood smoke in the air. What she gets instead is a waft of lavender, followed by the ghost of Sally Swarthmore, who seems strangely likable for a convicted ax-murderer. She has an agenda for Gram and Betts, and she won't let them be in her quest to find her lost diary. The two mysteries, separated by several decades, start to intertwine as the tension and danger ratchet up.

More pleasantly, the relationship between Betts and policeman and high school sweetheart Cliff Sebastian is progressing nicely. They even manage to work together on the investigation, each respecting the strengths of the other instead of butting heads, as is so often the case in stories like this.

This second entry in the Country Cooking School Mysteries is even more delightful than the first, IF FRIED CHICKEN COULD FLY. Broken Rope is a town anyone who loves western history, with its outlaws, notorious killers, and other colorful characters, will enjoy visiting. The nineteenth-century cemeteries promise to provide many more spirits for Betts to befriend, each with a unique and entertaining story to tell. As icing on the cake, there are delicious recipes for all things potato. I am anxious for the next adventure!

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