Small cities are no strangers to mystery, as Benson proves in her charming debut novel.
In Fargo, N.D., news travels fast. So when Ellie Craven’s brother-in-law, Rick, suddenly announces that he’s leaving Ellie’s sister, Tandy, and their daughter, Carmen, Tandy and Ellie initially try to keep things quiet and figure out what’s going on—and why Rick wants to take almost all of the furniture. Later, when Rick physically attacks them, Ellie realizes that the situation is more serious than it first appeared. After Carmen is kidnapped, Ellie and Tandy tell their parents and grandfather everything, and the family unites in a rescue mission—a task made more difficult when Rick lies to the police. Ellie investigates further, and discovers that Rick has maintained a secret life for quite some time—one that includes a pregnant girlfriend, dive bars and drug dealers. She also reconnects with a handsome man from her past who’s linked to Rick’s new girlfriend. Meanwhile, Ellie’s grandfather repeatedly distracts her from her search with his wild pranks on the director of his rest home, whom he nicknames “the dominatrix.” Will Ellie save Carmen and protect her grandfather from himself? Benson’s descriptions of Fargo’s landscapes, weather and people are evocative and often hilarious; for example, Ellie and her sister encounter an aspiring amateur wrestler whose fake cowboy lingo practically square-dances off the page. The author’s efforts at replicating Midwestern speech don’t always ring true, however; even in Fargo, a young housewife probably wouldn’t use the word “bosom.” Also, with the exception of Ellie’s good-hearted ex-boyfriend, the novel depicts all police officers as easily duped or blinded by personal vendettas. However, these are minor flaws, and readers will likely easily overlook them due to the novel’s strong sense of place, vivid characters and brisk plotting.
A warm, well-constructed mystery, full of humor and intrigue.