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By John J. Lamb

Berkley Prime Crime, 2009 ($$7.99)
ISBN-10: 0425230329
ISBN-13: 978-0-425-23032-9

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

After a harrowing trip to visit their daughter and attend a teddy bear convention in San Francisco, Brad Lyon, on medical retirement from the SFPD, and his wife Ashleigh breathe a sigh of relief as they settle back into the serene life of small town Remmelkemp Mills, Virginia. Ashleigh is now working part-time as an auxiliary deputy for the Massanutten County Sheriff's Office. Brad, who serves as a consultant for the department, has taken up his hobby of making collectible bears. At the moment, he's making a "Claw and Order" collection, featuring law enforcement-related teddies like "Bear-atio Caine." This series, need I say, has its share of bad puns.

Sheriff Tina Barron wants Ashleigh to work full-time, but she and Brad are hoping to start a bear shop and museum, and there's just not enough time to do it all. Normally the deputy's job is not too demanding, but one night when she's called out to nab Chet, the local poacher, she gets sideswiped by a speeding Saab coming out of Everett Rawlins' driveway. She has to cut off the chase when the road gets too dangerous, and when she returns to Everett's farm she finds him dead, killed by an arrow. Chet is the first suspect, but the list of people with grudges against Rawlins soon grows.

The Saab was reported stolen from a nearby upscale hotel. Sherri Driggs, an executive from Atlanta, demands the return of her car. She is most unpleasant, and the story she and her assistant/boy toy give doesn't add up. Is she really visiting for pleasure, or does she have another agenda entirely?

Brad's theory is that most murders are a result of the "eternal -ances": romance, finance, and vengeance. Everett Rawlins had loved his late wife, and he seemed to be doing okay financially, but he didn't appear to have the kind of enemies who would kill him because of a grudge. Brad and Ashleigh suspect something bigger is involved, and more murders make it clear that Everett's death was no hunting accident. Brad's experience as a big city homicide detective helps the sheriff and Ashleigh figure out what that "something bigger" is. Crime solving is time-consuming and demanding, and it cuts into their time in planning for the first ever Remmelkemp Mills town teddy bear festival, but somehow the two bear-enthusiasts manage to spend quality time on both endeavors.

This premise could be overly cute, but somehow the blend of hard-boiled police work and cozy bear creations work together to make a charming and enjoyable series.

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