A yearly battle to preserve a California town’s Christmas Cow turns deadly.
The town of San Benedetto has two major business enterprises, vineyards and dairy farms. Every year the Dairy Association builds a large straw cow to celebrate Christmas, and every year pranksters try to destroy it. Maddie Kosloski’s mother is on guard at the site when the cow is attacked by Santa Claus and four gingerbread men, each armed with flaming arrows. In the process, Bill Eldrich, the other guard, is killed. Maddie (Pressed to Death, 2017, etc.) arrives at the site with Detective Jason Slate, a cop with whom she has a good relationship bordering on romance. His partner, Detective Laurel Hammer, on the other hand, has had it in for Maddie ever since Maddie accidentally set Laurel’s hair on fire. The Paranormal Museum Maddie owns has been doing a booming business ever since she added the haunted cowbells that years before had been sent to the Dairy Association from Switzerland. Every member of the original dairy board died within a year of the bells’ arrival. Even though most of them were well up in years, the bells have acquired a reputation that’s enhanced by Eldrich’s death, since he had apparently been hearing cowbells in the days before his death. Maddie’s mom, who has fingers in every pie in town, insists that they investigate even after they narrowly escape death when her car is blown up in the driveway of a married pair of dairy farmers they’re questioning. A ceremony to prevent more deaths by putting a spell on the bells only makes things worse when observers complain something bit them. And the list of possible killers expands as Maddie discovers that Bill, who was quite the lady’s man, had a lot more enemies than it first appeared. Despite warnings from Jason and threats from Hammer, Maddie can’t stop the sleuthing that makes her a target for a ruthless killer.
Weiss’ many quirky ongoing characters add charm and humor, but this time the plot rambles more than a little.