How could I resist a mystery with a character from Florida who is vacationing in Arizona? Two of my home states. But, it doesn't turn out to be quite the trip that hair stylist and salon owner Marla Vail expects in Nancy J. Cohen's latest mystery, Peril by Ponytail.
Ten months after their wedding, Marla and her husband, Dalton, finally have a chance to take a honeymoon trip. But, a dude ranch in Arizona isn't quite what Marla wanted. She knows Dalton's cousin offered them free lodging on the family-owned ranch. She didn't know Dalton, a homicide detective, had agreed to look into some of the violent incidents that were happening on the ranch. And, then the sleuthing pair discover the problems aren't just at the ranch where water valves have been loosened, and other problems have happened. Dalton's Uncle Raymond bought a ghost town. A worker disappeared. Then a forest ranger, a riding friend of Raymond's, ends up dead on a trail he knew well. And other ranchers are blaming Raymond for the lack of water on their ranches, saying he's taken the water for his ghost town. But, a rattlesnake and a cabin fire convince Marla and Dalton that someone may actually be targeting their family. If their honeymoon has to be spent on an investigation, they're going to find the answers and help their newly discovered family.
Family is a major theme in Cohen's latest mystery. There are family arguments, secrets, and the destruction of family because of the past. Dalton didn't know of his extended family because his mother never talked about them. And, it takes quite a while for Raymond to reveal secrets even his own children didn't know. With Raymond so secretive, it's no wonder that Dalton and Marla wonder if he is at fault, and has something to hide from everyone. It's not easy to suspect and investigate family.
Because Cohen takes her characters out of Florida, their natural setting, Peril by Ponytail, is an excellent introduction to the series for anyone who hasn't read previous books. Marla and Dalton are starting a new life, and they're visiting people and a setting that are new. To someone who has lived in Arizona for a lengthy period of time, Marla's view and opinion of Arizona is funny. However, it's actually an excellent introduction to part of the state with the climate and setting. And, Marla and Dalton, mature characters with a trust in each other, and their shared innuendos, are interesting sleuths.
Part of the fun of any mystery is trying to guess whodunnit before the sleuth does. I guessed correctly early on, and I also guessed the reason for the violence. Then, it's as if the reader challenges the sleuths to see how long it takes them to find the same answer. Peril by Ponytail leads the reader, step-by-step through the investigation process to a satisfying conclusion.
Nancy J. Cohen's website is www.nancyjcohen.com
Peril by Ponytail by Nancy J. Cohen. Five Star. 2015. ISBN 9781432830984 (hardcover), 292p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.