The Proof Is in The Poison
Southern Homebrew Mystery #2
By Diane Kelly
Author’s website: dianekelly.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Moonshine shop owner Hattie Hayes is ready to lend a hand when a mystery starts brewing at a train convention in Chattanooga, TN, in this charming cozy mystery series.
Now that her moonshine shop is up and running, Hattie Hayes can focus her efforts on expanding her fledgling business to events in the area, like the Chattanooga Choo Choo Model Train Convention, which is running full steam ahead at the convention center down the block. Hattie is all aboard, seizing this perfect opportunity to promote her Southern homebrew to the folks who have come to the city for the annual event.
But when an attendee dies after drinking some of Hattie’s moonshine, she’ll need to prove her innocence. Between tight-lipped train hobbyists and competitors for a coveted convention prize, Hattie has a wide array of suspects to choose from, and she’ll need to use all the tricks up her sleeve to make sure her moonshine business can survive a murderer and stay on track.
I enjoyed this fast-paced 2nd in series even more than the first! The characters, especially Hattie and her grandfather, are engaging and endearing. Having become invested in Hattie in the series debut, this novel solidified that I want to see more of this protagonist. The model railroad convention in Chattanooga was a fascinating and fun setting, almost tempting me to look for a show to enjoy. The train theme is throughout, including songs with trains and train terminology or adages. The mystery was intriguing, and I had to cheer for Hattie as she tried to find the real killer.
It has been interesting to learn about moonshine in this series! Moonshine is in Hattie’s blood. She learned how to make it from her grandfather, Ben, when she was growing up. She left her stable office job to do what she loves, produce and sell moonshine in the family tradition. She was very careful when she made it, and those who drank it thought she made the perfect product in various fruit flavors.
Hattie spent the first morning of the model railroad convention handing out flyers for her product to collectors and vendors. The hotel bar would use her moonshine in a special mixer that first night with special train-themed drinks. She and Ben learned there was much more to the model train/ railroad hobby than they thought. They met many enthusiasts, some whose wives were involved in it with them. Other wives had their own activities together while their husbands spent the hours in various model train/ railroad themed workshops or seeing other people’s setups.
Hattie and Ben watched enthusiasts in various stages of setting up their latest railroad models for which they hoped to win first place. One man was Bert, who they had seen yelling at one of the housekeeping staff in the hotel that morning. He wasn’t very personable; his wife Dana was friendly and proud of the ribbons and trophies Bert won over the years. Even when Bert was rude to her, she recovered quickly and made excuses for him.
The mixer at the hotel bar was a success, and afterwards Dana and some of the wives came to the Moonshine Shack to try the ‘shine samples and use their convention discounts. A couple mornings later, judging began on some of the contests. Dana told them that Bert was so nervous about the judging that he drank half a jar of ‘shine the night before, plus a couple shots that morning, and oh, did he look like it. Before the judges made it to his booth, however, Bert fell over dead. By the end of the day, Detective “Ace” regretfully shut down the ‘shine shack pending tests on her product. Bert died from methanol poisoning, and the culprit was thought to be the ‘shine. Dana had only a small amount the night before and had a little bit of methanol in her system as well, for which the hospital treated her.
It was horrifying for Hattie to think she may have made a dreadful mistake that killed someone. She thought about Marlon, who she had recently begun dating. A police officer, he frequently rides his horse on his beat. He might have to arrest her if they can’t discover a different source of poison, just like his great-granddaddy, a sheriff, had once arrested her great-granddaddy, a moonshiner, during Prohibition.
The author has gifted us with a great, three-dimensional cast of characters, most of whom feel like new friends. I like the close relationships Hattie has with her grandfather and her friends. I also enjoy Smoky, Hattie’s pet and the shack’s feline mascot. Even though Marlon and Hattie are getting to know each other, he believes in her attention to the details of producing ‘shine, and Ace, the detective, is willing to listen to and utilize information Hattie finds.
The humor brings welcome relief from some of the more stressful moments, including Hattie reading stories to her friend Kate’s infant son and changing them to reflect 21st century women. I liked learning more about the moonshine business. I was stunned when Hattie confronted a couple people at the convention, all but outright accusing them of killing Bert! The irony of the chase was not lost on this reader; it was equally frightening and funny. The ending of this Southern cozy mystery is very satisfying, leaving no loose ends. I can’t wait to see the next mystery in this series, and highly recommend this one!