DEAD IN HOG HEAVEN
By Carol Caverly
Mystery / Amateur Sleuth
by: Jo Rogers, MyShelf.Com
Dead in Hog Heaven is Carol Caverly's third book in her Thea Barlow in Wyoming series. Though I haven't read the first two books in this series, All the Old Lions and Frogskin and Muttonfat, I look forward to the pleasure. If they are as well-written and entertaining as Dead in Hog Heaven, readers are in for a treat.
In this story, Thea Barlow is now engaged to geologist Max Holman, her crony from the previous two books. She has quit her job as editor of Western True Crimes magazine, and has left Chicago. In a leap of faith, she has moved to Wyoming, settling on a small, clapboard house with gingerbread trim in the town of Garnet Pass. On her way there, she stopped in the town of Hog Heaven, population, seven. She wanted to do a bit of research on the Four Mile "hog" ranch. Begun in the 1870s, the ranch was actually a house of prostitution. The women, all none too appealing, were referred to as "hogs."
The first person Thea met in Hog Heaven was Clyde Bodie, the elderly and rotund proprietor of the town's store and gas station. The antique gas pumps were manually pumped, but they worked. That alone made them worth a small fortune. When Thea drove up, Bodie was repainting the Hog Heaven sign to read New Sedonia. He and his wife, Opal, had ideas of turning their land into a New Age tourist trap, similar to the one at Sedonia, Arizona.
While Thea was there, Opal Bodie's niece, Ronnie Mae Lorenzo, came roaring up in her pickup. She was blazing mad. A geologist had been snooping around the land Opal had deeded to her and her husband, Danny. Ronnie Mae had come for the shotgun Clyde kept at his store. In a panic that Max could be the geologist Ronnie Mae was gunning for, Thea left to look for Max and warn him.
While she was driving down the empty road, a pickup roared up behind her Camry, and the driver began honking and waving for her to pull over. After the run-in with Ronnie Mae, Thea was terrified, and she sped up. The truck pulled along side her, and she saw, with great relief, that Max Holman was behind the wheel. She pulled over, to find that Max wanted her to go on to Garnet Pass for the town meeting.
There, rhubarb was going as the townsfolk argued over the future of Garnet Pass. The mayor, Chet Overbeck, had sold the old school building to the Astral Institute, eager to cash in on the New Age movement. Monty Montgomery, an old west reenactor, was certain his Mountain Man Rendezvous was just what Garnet Pass needed.
Then, Opal Bodie arrived with the news that she had leased land to the Astral Institute and they would be going to New Sedonia instead of Garnet Pass. About that time, Ronnie Mae came storming up to Max, warning him to stay off her land. A shouting match broke out, and Montgomery slammed the butt of his flintlock on the floor to restore order. It discharged, sending the tamping rod into the ceiling fan. Ronnie Mae collapsed in a faint, so they thought, until they tried to bring her around. Ronnie Mae was dead, presumably from insulin shock or other complications from her diabetes. An autopsy would tell.
The next morning, at Opal Bodie's invitation, Thea went back to New Sedonia, where Opal was to show her the ruins of Four Mile, and give her some of its history. Opal's great-grandfather had built the place in 1872. Thea met Clyde as she got out of her car. He told her Opal was expecting her, to go on in. Thea entered the Bodie's trailer after Clyde drove off in his old truck. She knocked over a bowl of polished rocks, agates, quartz and the like. She picked them up, noting the bowl had also become home to some gum wrappers, a couple of paper clips and some rubber bands. These she stuffed in her shorts pocket, intending to put them in the nearest trash receptacle.
Not finding Opal in the trailer, she went into the Bodie's store. In the back of the store, she found a machine of some kind and more bits of colored rocks. But there was no sign of the plump Opal Bodie. Thinking she might be waiting for her at Four Mile, Thea walked out to the old ruins.
Inside one of the ruined buildings, she opened the old, rotting door that hung on loose hinges, the only door in the entire building still hanging. It opened into one of the "cribs" where the "hogs" once plied their trade. There, in the middle of the hard-packed dirt floor, lay Opal Bodie. Thea moved forward to see what was wrong with the older woman. As she approached, someone hit her from behind, knocking her onto Opal. By the time she got her breath and got up, her assailant was gone and she was left gaping at Opal's body and the huge knife protruding from Opal's chest.
Thea heard a sound outside the building and she feared the killer had come back to finish her off. With a superhuman strength born of terror, she yanked the knife from Opal's chest and turned to the door. There, in the doorway, stood the shotgun-toting Danny Lorenzo, Ronnie Mae's widower.
Before Sheriff Rusty Metzger could arrive, Opal's best friend, Twila Pettigrew, her pet chicken, Sugar, and Clyde had arrived. They had thoroughly trampled the murder scene, poking around for clues, and Clyde had moved the body to make Opal "more comfortable." By the time Twila and one of the sheriff's deputies had chased Sugar all over the parking area, any tracks left by the strange truck Clyde saw leaving the store were obliterated as well.
Thea was then the prime suspect, since she had been seen standing over the body with the murder weapon in hand. Sheriff Metzger might have charged her with Opal's murder right then, save for one thing - Thea's car had been thoroughly ransacked. The next day, she went for a walk with Charlotte Metzger and Yvonne Sullivan, where she heard Ronnie Mae had also been murdered. When she got home, she found that her house had been ransacked too. The perpetrator was still inside, and tried to wrap her in a quilt and kill her. She got loose and ran to the sheriff's office.
Who had killed Opal Bodie and Ronnie Mae and why? And who ransacked Thea's car and house? What were they looking for? Dead in Hog Heaven is a mystery that will keep you guessing right to the last few pages, when the killer, with the aid of Twila's chicken, is revealed. This book is a good, clean mystery that will be a joy for mystery lovers to read!
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