Berkley, May 2004, 24.95, 271 pp.
In San Celina, California, Shawna Darnell Abbott and her husband Johnny turn the Broken Dis Ranch into a guest ranch in the hope that they can make enough profit to avoid bankruptcy and consequently lose the family spread. Benni Harper and her grandmother help the young couple during the first few weeks of the new operation.
A dog finds a bone on a trail that a guest identifies as human remains. Benni investigates and soon discovers a grave that appears to have been recently dug up. Benni's nemesis Police detective Hudson arrives and learns that the buried individual was a murder victim. Someone releases a prize bull that is about to be sold and arson burns down a barn. Benni tries to uncover the identity of the culprit, but the motive is decades old.
BROKEN DISHES is an exciting combination of a police procedural and an amateur sleuth tale that make for a delightful combination that works and works well. The mystery is cleverly interwoven into a story line that focuses on two individuals trying to save their ranch. Fans will hope the Abbots succeed in this difficult venture that has been made more complicated by the homicides. Earlene Fowler is a grandmaster of characterization starting with Benni and continuing with a strong secondary cast who bring some comic relief to the terse tale.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner