Delectable Mountains is the twelfth in the Benni Harper mystery series. The following review contains no spoilers for this book, but may contain spoilers for the series. For just my opinion, skip to the end.
In the weeks before Thanksgiving, there is a lot happening in San Celina, California. Benni and her grandmother, Dove, are called on to help put together a children's play that is sponsored by their church. Besides play rehearsals, Benni must make sure the folk art museum and new gift shop are running smoothly. Meanwhile, her husband, Police Chief Gabe Ortiz, gets a surprise visit from his cousin, Luis, whom he hasn't seen in a few years.
On the evening after the first rehearsal, Benni returns to the church to pick up her forgotten script. When she enters the sanctuary, she discovers the body of a recently murdered man. In effort to reassure the parents, keep the play on track, and guarantee security, Benni reluctantly asks Detective Ford (Hud) Hudson to help with the play. Hud's daughter is in the cast, so he agrees to coach the kids. Benni is annoyed to find that Hud seems more interested in flirting than in helping the kids learn their lines.
After the historical society discovers that a priceless violin has been stolen from its display case, Benni begins to wonder if there is a connection between the theft and the murder. Despite her better judgment and the wishes of her husband, Benni can't help but investigate both the victim and the violin.
As in all the Benni Harper books, Benni's relationships with her family and friends take a central spot in the story. Gabe and Luis are struggling with unresolved issues that reach back into their childhoods. Benni and Gabe continue to work on their marriage, but Hud's presence isn't helping matters. Unfortunately we don't see very much of Elvia and Emory (Benni's best friend and cousin, respectively).
Fowler inserts a number of side plots in the novel. Some clearly move the characters forward in the series; others are more political or religious in nature. The exploration of these themes does not take away from the book, but the novel would have been tighter if Fowler had focused on only one such issue. Some of the clues to the mysteries were too obviously given, but in the end, the solutions were nicely complex.
Although Delectable Mountains was not the strongest entry in the series in terms of the mysteries, it is an important contribution to the continuing development of Benni and Gabe.
I listened to the audiobook read by Johanna Parker. Parker does a fine job narrating this series and deftly transitions into a believable Spanish accent when needed. She even gets a chance to sing to us.
Earlene Fowler has an informative website, complete with photographs, interviews, FAQs, and more.
The thirteenth book in the series was published in 2007, and the fourteenth is scheduled for 2010. Fowler published a stand-alone mystery in 2006 and a non-mystery novel in 2009.
Published by Penguin USA, 2006
Challenges: Themed Reading, Cozy Mysteries, 100+, 999