Death of a Red-Hot Rancher
Death of a Red Hot Rancher has a lot of fun with contemporary romance tropes. It’s the kind of cozy mystery that’s directly intended to appeal to romance fans, while anyone who doesn’t have a bit of familiarity with the genre will probably also get a huge hoot out of it. But the book is just flawed enough for the grade to settle at a B, with a heroine who is middling.
Brody Pierce is your classic handsome cowboy; when he enters the room, men pause and women drool. Practical but lovelorn Lizzie Hale is left speechless when he moseys into her romance novel-centric bookshop – Love Under the Covers – which she runs with her Aunt Charmaine. The brief encounter is memorable, and the highlight of a day that ends with another lousy date.
Hours later, Brody turns up dead, a knife plunged into his heart in the back of his barn on his impressive ranch, and Lizzie finds herself taking custody of Brody’s dog, Violet, who directed her to the body. Aunt Charmaine – who’d been seen flirting with Brody prior to the murder – is now the prime suspect. But Lizzie knows Charmaine – no way could she be guilty of such a heinous crime – and thanks to her position at the bookstore, Lizzie has an open ear for gossip and sets about investigating a few prime suspects of her own. Along the way, she manages to unearth plenty of Tinker’s Creek, Ohio’s darkest secrets, as well as many of Brody’s. Desperate to keep her Aunt Charmaine from ending up in the klink, Lizzie finds herself getting closer to local hero, baseball player Max Alvarez, and in a deadly pas de dux with Ernest, Brody’ equally handsome archeologist brother, with whom he had a less than friendly relationship.
Death of the Red Hot Rancher is fun if you like western contemporary romances, cozy mysteries and bookstore romances. Max and Lizzie are both cute and their burgeoning flirtation (which will presumably bloom in later instalments) is very well done. I liked charming Max, flirty but foolhardy Aunt Charmaine, and Violet the dog very much.
But Lizzie herself…well, she’s that classic clumsy, awkward, adorable type who makes constant verbal and social faux pas as she gambols through life. She’s the reason I couldn’t grade this one more highly; disliking a book’s heroine is never a good sign, but I’m willing to give her room and hope she’ll develop as the book series goes on.
The mystery itself is just unpredictable enough to keep the audience reading. Some of what happens here is just a bit sinister, with a truly horrifying ending that Lizzie must escape. Granger’s villains are actually where she truly makes her mystery stand out in the field of its peers.
Death of the Red Hot Rancher will definitely amuse, though it’s not my favorite cozy mystery of the year.