Monday, June 9, 2008

Review: Till the Cows Come Home

Till the Cows Come Home by Judy Clemens
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Holiday Challenge - June is Dairy Month; Mysteries list for Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: "Stella Crown works hard and loves her life. She runs her own dairy farm with the trusted help of longtime assistant Howie, rides her Harley on the weekends, and has enough friends to suit her just fine. But on her twenty-ninth birthday, things start to change. A neighborhood child dies from a strange and threatening illness, a string of mysterious disasters place Stella and her farm in peril, not to mention her friend Abe showing up with a new woman on his arm, creating confusing emotions all around. Electrical outages, flooded barns, and cows running loose in the countryside are bad enough, but when her livestock begins turning up dead, Stella knows someone, or something, is out to get her.Though doctors quickly announce the discovery of the neighbor child's cause of death, another child dies before they can declare victory over the illness, sending the community into a state of near panic. While trying to solve the mystery behind her own troubles, Stella begins to think she alone might hold the answers to the children's deaths. Striking out on her own, afraid to trust anyone -- friends, neighbors, or the gorgeous stranger she's fallen for -- Stella must find her enemy before anyone else, including herself, ends up dead."

My thoughts: This was a very intriguing mystery - the crimes ranged from fairly petty to heinous and just when it seemed like the culprit had been found, something else popped up. I can see why it was nominated for the Anthony and Agatha awards.

Stella Crown is a great heroine - dairy farmer, biker, fiercely loyal to her adopted family and her farm, but lonely and vulnerable under her tough exterior. I love her tattoos - a cow skull on her neck and To Thine Own Self Be True on her arm - the combination really sums Stella up.

Stella was orphaned as a teenager, but she's fortunate to have an extended family in the Grangers - a large clan of sons and their Ma who treat Stella as one of their own. And she has Howie, her farmhand who has been on the farm since she was born. Their relationship is a special one - beneath their gruff exteriors, they love each other, though they're not very good at showing it. The title is actually something he says often to Stella (or rather "Princess" - which seems to be only a partly sarcastic nickname) - that's how long he'll be with her to help run the farm.

Two of my favourite places to visit are big on dairy - Washington (WA's Dairy Women make the best state fair ice cream sandwiches ever) and Minnesota (where the dairy princess gets her likeness carved in butter), so I was interested in the dairy farm setting. I couldn't quite imagine what type of crime was going to take place there, it seems like it would be a pretty untroubled location. Little did I know!

There are some very welcome funny parts, too - most of them involve cow urine or excrement, unsurprisingly. I think my favourite scene is the one where Stella takes her biker friends, in full leather gear, to intimidate the person she thought was responsible for sabatoging her farm.

There are several sequels and I think I'll check them out - unlike the cozy mysteries I've been reading of late, everything isn't all tidy at the end. The mysteries are solved, but Stella's life is basically in the manure lagoon. I hope things turn around for her in both the farming and the romance departments.

Get to know Stella and her farm - you won't be disappointed.

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