I'm addicted to Paige Shelton's Country Cooking School mysteries. It's not the cooking school or the recipes that attract me. It's the unusual history of the Old West outlaw town of Broken Rope, Missouri, and the stories of all the ghosts. Each ghost that shows up, appearing to Betts Winston and her grandmother, Missouri Anna (Gram), has an unusual story, a mystery that Betts and Gram need to solve before the ghost can move on. This time, in If Catfish Had Nine Lives, it's a story of the Pony Express.
Broken Rope is hosting a cowboy poetry convention, and Gram and Betts are teaching outdoor cooking classes - frying catfish over a campfire, and Dutch oven techniques. But, Betts is a little distracted. Her favorite ghost of a cowboy, Jerome, has shown up, saying he's there to protect her. Before they can even discuss that, events start to tumble out of control. An actor is shot dead in what was supposed to be the skit of a gunfight, and Betts' brother, Teddy, is found beaten up, with no memory of what happened or who was involved. Betts fears her brother might been had a fight with the dead actor, after she hears the two went into the woods together looking for firewood.
Betts trusts the locals, but doesn't know which of the tourists and cowboys might have been involved in the shooting and Teddy's beating. She's checking it out because she fears for her brother. But, she has other matters to worry about, too. Joe, the ghost of a Pony Express rider, has shown up again, someone Gram has always helped. Now, the two turn to Betts, who can actually touch and deal with ghosts better than her grandmother. Joe has three more letters to deliver. When Joe died, letters were left undelivered. Now, Gram, Betts and Joe must find a way to pass them on to the descendants of the original recipients. How does this tie in with one of the tourists who claims she's related to a Pony Express rider with local connections? Once again, Betts is caught up in crimes of the present and ghosts of the past.
Shelton always does an excellent job with the mystery in these books. Her characters are always interesting, from Betts and Gram, to Betts' best friend and local historian, Jake. Relationships are important in these books, family relationships, friendships, and the occasional case of enmity. And, the ghosts truly come to life on the pages, with all their mystique and past histories. Shelton beautifully incorporates the ghosts' stories into the history of Broken Rope.
Ghosts, history of the Old West, modern crime, and cooking are blended together skillfully in Paige Shelton's Country Cooking School mysteries. If Catfish Had Nine Lives adds a few more fascinating ghostly legends to the annals of Broken Rope's history.
Paige Shelton's website is www.paigeshelton.com
If Catfish Had Nine Lives by Paige Shelton. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425269282 (paperback), 296p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.