It’s the holiday season in Notchey Creek, and Harley Henrickson is busy mixing yuletide cocktails at her store, Smoky Mountain Spirits. There is snow on the ground, holiday music in the air, and wreathes on every lamppost. Everything seems perfect for the town’s biggest event of the year, the Small Town Christmas Festival. Even Harley’s pet pig, Matilda, is feeling festive, wearing the Elf on the Shelf costume Aunt Wilma bought for her. But not all is merry and bright in this little mountain town. Harley senses something eerie in the air, and it all points to Notchey Creek’s oldest and most beautiful home—Briarcliffe.
No sooner has rock star Beau Arson settled into Briarcliffe Mansion, than a self-righteous ghost hunter arrives in town, telling macabre tales about Beau’s new home. According to legend, a young woman by the name of Margaret Reed hanged herself in the woods behind Briarcliffe on Christmas Day, over a century ago. To make matters worse, Beau has been experiencing ghostly encounters at night, seeking to drive him from his family’s home.
When Harley finds the body of a mysterious woman in the woods near Briarcliffe, and then a wealthy antiques dealer is murdered, she decides to investigate. Can Harley intervene before a century of lies, greed, and passion destroy Beau Arson’s new life—the past he’s just only come to know?
In the meantime, other issues are causing problems for Harley. Aunt Wilma and Opha Mae Shaw are designing a Christmas dress of epic proportions for Harley (and one for Matilda, of course). Uncle Tater and Floyd have been devising top-secret plans in The Shed that might have to do with the upcoming Christmas Parade. And Harley’s best friend, Tina Rizchek, is at her wit’s end when her colorful grandmother and pet parrot visit from Pittsburgh for the holidays.
Source: Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars
Until recently, Notchey Creek has been a relatively quiet place to live. Of course, there are the occasional squabbles and bouts of hurt feelings, but nothing on the level of murder and mayhem. Not until famed rocker Beau Arson came to town was there a spate of murders. Now there’s been not one, not two, but three and Beau is, once again considered a suspect.
Harley Henrickson doesn’t believe in ghosts, but of late, a ghost hunter and several “sightings” have seriously made Harley rethink her position on the topic. Beau Arson is certain there is something amiss in his vast and expansive home and when a dead woman appears in the forest, all the clues lead right back to Beau. If Harley doesn’t do something, her friend is either going to lose his mind, his freedom, or both.
The ghost hunter is a serious pain in the butt and his stories of a Hatfield and McCoy’s-esque feud between Beau’s family and another once-prominent family aren’t earning him any friends. According to the legends, Beau’s family stole the land their beautiful home now sits on and drove the previous owners to despair, poverty, and even suicide. Furthermore, the current ghost sightings and the dead woman in the woods are the players from the past coming back to seek their revenge.
As Harley begins diving into the mystery – much to the sheriff’s great displeasure – she finds there are many mysteries afoot and none of them include actual ghosts. Someone is “haunting” Beau’s home and his life, a local antiques dealer has been killed, and it all ties together in some convoluted manner. When you add in Harley’s growing feelings for the handsome local coroner, her best-friend’s outspoken grandmother and parrot (yes, there’s a foul-mouthed parrot!), and trying to run her own business, Harley is up to her butt in crazy and longing for the days of quiet and tedium.
The Bottom Line: What a wild ride this one turned out to be! Between the pig, the parrot, and Tina’s grandmother, I found myself laughing aloud on several occasions. Harley is growing in self-confidence and I am loving that evolution in her character. Adding to self-confidence is the fact Harley is expanding her social circle and allowing others, especially Beau to know the real Harley, the one her family and best friend have love for years. Finally, I love how the mysteries in these books are just a shade above cozy; these stories are just a bit darker, just a bit more complex than the average cozy. I am fully committed to this series and it has everything to do with the setting, the characters, and the excellent plots that keep me involved and completely entertained from start to finish.