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Book Review: Kansas Troubles by Earlene Fowler

kansas troubles earlene fowler Book Review: Kansas Troubles by Earlene Fowler

Every time I pick up a cozy mystery I know Im in for an educational experience about some odd little hobby or past-time: Ive read about everything from soap making to coffee brewing to art restoration. In Earlene Fowlers Kansas Troubles, the third in her Benni Harper series, the name of the game is quilting. Bet you never thought that a knowledge of fabric patterns or stitching could help solve a crime, did you?

Californian cowgirl Benni is a tad nervous: her uber-quick romance and subsequent tying of the knot with broody cop Gabe Ortiz means that shes bound for a whole bunch of family introductions. Family introductions in small-town Kansas. As Benni sights the silos, cattle, and laconic locals, she starts to wonder whether it might have been easier to stay in Californiaand her concerns dont abate after meeting Gabes decidedly frosty mother, Kathryn.

But what better than a bloody murder to bring a family together?'A reunion shin-dig with Gabes friends and family ends horribly when a game of late-night tag (which is a bad enough scenario in itself) sees aspiring country singer and erstwhile Amish community member Tyler wind up brutally killed. Of course, the close-knit ways of rural Kansas means that just about everyones a suspect. Unfortunately, just about all of the suspects are people Gabe has known since his childhood

With her eye for sleuthing and a penchant for eavesdropping, Benni sets straight to work trying to piece together the mystery, hitting up the local Amish community for clues, snooping at a quilting show, and grilling band members at a seedy pub. Soon Bennis elbow-deep in all sorts of dastardly deeds and eyebrow-raising small-town news, and she cant wait to share what shes learned. However, learning more about Gabes friends and family means that shes learning more about Gabe, too: in some cases, more than she really wanted to know. But its not just Benni whos reeling from all of this information. Gabe, whos trying to process the fact that its quite likely that one of his friends is a murderer, is none-too-pleased with Bennis efforts, and the fledgling relationship between the two newlyweds begins to falter.

Kansas Troubles'is a well-rounded read, with a good deal of time spent not only on the mystery side of things, but also on the relationship between Benni and Gabe. The challenges of committing to sharing ones life with someone later on in life are touched upon, and Benni and Gabes whirlwind relationship is compared and contrasted with the marriages of the Amish community to fascinating effect. In one scene, Benni learns about how brief the Amish courtship can be, leading her to ponder what goes on beyond closed doors and how those within the marriage learn to face these ups and downs without the potential out afforded to those outside the community.

The mystery is also a solid one, with the main murder plot supported by all manner of smaller threads involving the pasts (and presents) of Gabe and his friends, all of which makes for fascinating readingin part because of the tidily drawn setting, which offers space for the characters to grow beyond the simple machinations of the plot. I cant help but wonder, though, to what extent the characters would be able to stand on their own without the small-town Kansas locale and feel to prop them up.

There were a couple of things that didnt quite work for me: the quirky side-plot of Bennis zany family battling it out as they drive up from California to Kansas, which I felt was a little forced and over-the-top, and the reason behind the murdered Tylers having a lump sum of cash in the bank, which sat a little oddly to me given her Amish background. I also lost count of the times that Benni raised a threatening fist to virtually every character she came across. (Although props to her for keeping her surname after marriage and sticking to her guns when constantly questioned about itI can totally identify with how frustrating it is to have to justify the choice to every nosy parker who believes its their right to question it.)

A final note: this is one of the older cozy mysteries Ive read, and I couldnt help but feel that it differed quite a bit in terms of pacing from the newer cozies Ive come across. The books quite a bit longer for one, and theres no dead body in chapter one, which Id always thought was an unbreakable rule for a cozy. Theres also quite a bit of space given over to setting and secondary characters, which hasnt been the case in the newer cozies Ive read. Id be curious to hear whether this is idiosyncratic to the author, or whether theres been a change in the genre over the years.

In all, Kansas Troubles is a tidy little read with plenty going on keep your attention. The murderers identity may be easy to pick (although the reasons behind the murder less so), but the setting and the tidbits about Amish life and quilting add an extra dimension of interest.

Rating: star Book Review: Kansas Troubles by Earlene Fowlerstar Book Review: Kansas Troubles by Earlene Fowlerstar Book Review: Kansas Troubles by Earlene Fowlerhalfstar Book Review: Kansas Troubles by Earlene Fowlerblankstar Book Review: Kansas Troubles by Earlene Fowler (very good)

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