A young Tennessee woman investigates strange events concerning a missing drifter, a rock star, and a murdered professor in this debut mystery novel.
In small-town Notchey Creek, Tennessee, everyone knows everyone else. Harley Henrickson can’t overcome her lifelong reputation as a nerdy frump and doesn’t try. Instead, she concentrates on the family whiskey distillery and store, Smoky Mountain Spirits, though she’s often distracted by the shenanigans of her pet pig, Matilda, and her colorful great-aunt, Wilma True, secretary for the distillery and a surrogate parent to Harley. Once, Harley was college-bound with a Harvard scholarship and wanted to be a writer. But when her grandfather, who raised her, became ill, she stayed in Notchey Creek to care for him; when he died, she inherited the distillery and shelved university plans. With the autumn festival about to start, the town’s business leaders want no problems—but first, a stranger is discovered drunk in a ditch (and wanders away again). Then rock star Beau Arson, with his considerable entourage, takes over an entire resort, and later Dr. Patrick Middleton, the wealthy and respected president of the Historical Society, is found dead, perhaps murdered. The town sheriff, ex–NFL player Jed Turner, is distracted by girlfriend problems so Harley investigates—a search that will take her back into her own childhood and several long-kept, explosive secrets. In her novel, Andrews—like her heroine—mixes up a tasty cocktail out of appealing ingredients. Though the tone can be uneven, veering uncomfortably between corn pone and gothic, the twisty, complex plot is intelligently managed and full of surprises. Characters, too, are multilayered; Beau is more than a bad-boy rocker, for example. The Appalachian setting adds flavor, as with local Scottish-Irish settlers’ legends about Samhain, when “spirits would come down from the Smoky Mountains at dusk, and carried by the evening mist, they would haunt the Tennessee Valley until dawn.” Many townspeople do seem haunted, by spirits, the past, or memories. Harley, for example, remembers a boy who was kind to her when she was a grieving child—a boy whom, the book hints, she might reconnect with.
Keeps readers guessing—with humor and romance balancing the whodunit.