This, of course, was the first book I read for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge. Although I could try to slot it into the Western Setting category, it is a Western, albeit one set in the thirties and actually northeast of here. So, no, definitely Published in 2023, and perhaps the first book that I’ve read from 2023. Perhaps the last, although I will likely pick up other works by local authors published last year. So perhaps I should not be melodramatic.
Like previous books, this book picks up immediately after the events in Murder at Morse Mill. The same scene. The bad guy from an even more previous novel has interrupted Christmas dinner with revenge on his mind. As he holds a knife to Chet Harbinson’s daughter’s neck, her boyfriend, whom the bad doctor coshed outside, comes in and kills the intruder with an Indian war axe but loses consciousness from the coshing. Uh, spoiler alert for Murder at Morse Mill there. Chet and his family try to load the boy up into his truck to take him to St. Louis in a blizzard for medical care. They cannot, but the German man who owns the mill comes by with his stronger truck and takes him.
So Chet is wracked with self-doubt and worries that the doctor must have had an accomplice to help escape Leavenworth, where he was incarcerated. So he’s a wreck when a working man laboring for a mean cattle rancher dies one night–well, it’s murder, as the book shows us whodunit: the ne’er-do-well son of the rancher who wants the property promised to the working man and his family to give to a mob-connected man to settle gambling debts. The mob man wants it to build a slaughterhouse he can use to launder mob money. When someone kills the ne’er-do-well son, Harbison and his deputies try to find out who–and the laborer’s son admits to the crime to protect his mother, whom he suspects did it.
The book has other subplots and series business, and it’s a pretty good read. I’m not fond of the book picking up immediately like it’s the next chapter of the last book, as sometimes time passes between reading books in the series (although I read this book but a month after the previous installment). It still takes a bit for the reader to get back into where the last book left off exactly. And, unfortunately, this book ends on a cliffhanger note. Actually, it’s not a cliffhanger–if you didn’t know there was a DUN DUN DUH! coming, you would just expect the book denoued.