4 out of 4 stars
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Set in the small southern town of Tennessee, The Mist Rises Over Notchey Creek: A Harley Henrickson Mystery is the debut novel of author, Liz Andrews. Harley, a sensitive young woman whom many dismiss as the town nerd, was raised by her grandfather and gave up a Harvard scholarship when he became ill with cancer to care for him and help run the family whiskey distillery, which she has since inherited. Preparations are underway for the town's annual autumn festival when a mysterious stranger is discovered in a ditch who appears to be dead but then staggers away and disappears into the woods. On the same day, a famous rock star moves to Notchey Creek, and soon after, a history professor and long-time resident of the town is murdered. As Harley investigates the murder, memories from her own childhood begin to surface, and she unveils a dark secret connected to prominent citizens in town.
The mystery's plot is enhanced by the author's skillful use of imagery and a parade of complex and eccentric characters who might reside in any small southern town. Readers will relate to the protagonist, Harley, who despite the townspeople's insensitive barbs about her lack of beauty, doesn't allow her insecurities to define her. She is smart, well-read, compassionate, and hard working. In addition to distilling whiskey as taught to her by her grandfather, she has a flair for creating cocktail recipes which she serves at the family liquor store, Smoky Mountain Spirits. Aunt Wilma's escapades are also a treat, from her hair emergencies to her overbearing but well-meaning tendency to set up less than desirable blind dates for Harley. Other characters of interest include Jed, an ex-professional football player turned sheriff, with no previous law enforcement history and Harley's best friend from childhood, Tina, who owns the town bakery and wears rhinestones and stilettos to the events she caters. Regarding Tina's fashion sense, Harley quotes fellow Tennesse native, Dolly Parton, "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap." Andrews also provides intriguing backstories that resurface later in the story. The subtitle leaves the impression that this may be the first in a series which I hope will be the case.
It's always a pleasure to be surprised by a book, and the thing I liked most about this one was its unexpected humor. I found it impressive that Andrews was able to simultaneously weave a plot that kept me guessing while conjuring visual images that made me laugh. In one instance, Harley found herself transporting a giant model cupcake, an antique toilet, and her enormous pet pig, Matilda in her 1958 red Chevy truck. The author's detailed description of a scarecrow dressed like Aerosmith's Steve Tyler complete with a sign reading "Dream On" to promote a local bedding business also had me chuckling. The humor didn't detract in the least from the element of suspense. To the contrary, I was somewhat reminded of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series; though Andrews kept the humor PG and it never bordered on raunchy.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, but if pressed to define what I liked least, the title is the only thing that comes to mind. Andrews paints a beautiful image of the mist rising from the foothills and effectively conveys symbolism by connecting it to a literary reference. However, as the title of a mystery and one with humor at that, it's not one that I would have selected had I not dug deeper for review purposes. Based on my response, I can't help but wonder if the book may be overlooked by other readers who would be missing out on a great read.
Nevertheless, the book is worthy of a 4 out of 4 stars rating. It was exceptionally edited, as I found no errors. I recommend it to cozy mystery fans. It will also appeal to readers who enjoy books about life in small towns.
The Mist Rises Over Notchey Creek
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