Saddled Up 4 Murder
A Sophie Kimball Mystery, Book #9
By J. C. Eaton
Author Website: jceatonmysteries(.)com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
With a killer on the loose and horse thieves plaguing the area, it’s up to Sophie “Phee” Kimball to corral the clues and bring an outlaw to justice . . .
Spring is in the air as Sun City West gears up for its annual Bye Bye Birdie festivities, when residents bid a fond farewell to the snowbirds and happily reclaim the town for themselves. But planning comes to a screeching halt when the town curmudgeon plummets to her death from the library bell tower and sheriff’s deputies suspect foul play. With the celebration on hold—and Phee’s mother worried that she won’t get her moment in the spotlight on a local TV show slated to cover the event—Phee is thrust into the role of sleuth once again to find the killer.
As Phee soon discovers, there’s no love lost between the town and the unfortunate victim, and with the clock ticking and virtually everyone a potential suspect, she’s got her work cut out for her. Then a passel of horseflesh goes missing, and Phee starts to think the two crimes might be connected. With the town on edge and high noon approaching, she’ll have to wrangle with a band of daring desperados and lasso a lawbreaker who’s dead set on sending her to boot hill. (Goodreads)
There are a few things I know for sure when I pick up a cozy mystery from this series. First, there will be many opportunities to laugh. A lot. Especially at the antics of Phee’s mother Harriet and her neurotic dog, Streetman. Others are that the mystery will be more complex than anticipated, and no matter who I think the bad guy is, plot twists will prove me wrong. These things hold true in Saddled Up 4 Murder, set in one of Arizona’s active adult cities, Sun City West.
Phee moved to the Phoenix area a couple years ago and now works for Nate, a detective she worked with in the Mankato, Minnesota police department. He opened a PI firm in Glendale. Her fiancé, Marshall, is also from the Mankato PD, and is now Nate’s partner. Phee is the bookkeeper/ accountant, as she had been in Mankato, and the self-described queen of snooping around.
Harriet and her friends have a book club called Booked 4 Murder. Somehow, people get murdered around Harriet and her friends and Phee gets dragged into the middle of them. Sometimes she genuinely wants to protect her mother, and other times she is guilted into snooping around. The sheriff’s department sometimes hires Nate and Marshall’s firm to consult when their manpower isn’t sufficient, so they – and most people around Phee – are well acquainted with Harriet and Streetman.
Nate and Marshall have been hired by the owner of a five-star dude ranch to find who stole three of his trail horses. As they talk with the rancher’s neighbors, they learn that others have also had trail horses disappear. Soon they are tracking horses from around the state.
Harriet called Phee regarding the murder of Billie, nicknamed the deli-witch. She was a crabby woman who worked at the deli counter of a local grocery store. Harriet’s friend Lucinda regularly did doctor-advised stair exercises, going up and down the stairs of the library bell tower. One morning Billie pushed Lucinda out of the way as she blew up the stairs to do her exercises. After Lucinda went into the library, Billie was found dead at the bottom of the stairs. Exams prove that Billie had not fallen by accident. An altercation had sent her to the bottom. Lucinda was not a suspect in Billie’s death. She is afraid to stay alone, however, after being pushed in front of a line of cars, thinking the killer saw her and wants to silence her.
Harriet also wants the killer found, and not just for her friend’s peace of mind. The annual Bye Bye Birdie event, in which they celebrate the winter visitors going home, is imminent. Harriet and two friends will make announcements from the bell tower. A local TV show, Sonoran Living, will be there to film a balloon release from the bell tower, and Harriet wants her moment on the air. If the bell tower remains closed, Harriet won’t be on TV. Since Phee has helped solve other murders, she wants Phee to get involved again. While Nate and Marshall are meeting with people around the state whose trail horses have been stolen, Phee is trying to solve a murder.
I love how well the characters have been developed throughout the series; I can almost hear and see Harriet and her book club friends. Despite being closer to Harriet’s age than Phee’s, I have much empathy for what she goes through to keep peace with her mother. Even those who are in this mystery only are defined with excellence. One of my favorite lines is about Billie, who “didn’t ruffle people’s feathers, she plucked them out one by one.”
Billie made many enemies since moving to Sun City West, due in part to her rudeness to the deli customers. Phee has many leads to follow, from former co-workers to the people in the Boomers’ Club and each activity group Billie was part of. Phee even went to a festival where wicca covens were celebrating beltane. There were many LOL moments before the bad guys were caught, but the resolution had some huge surprises and was completely satisfactory. While some of the occurrences were a bit far-fetched, this mystery is a delightful escape in the Southwest desert, and I highly recommend it!