Peril by Ponytail, by Nancy J. Cohen. Five Star. 292 pages. Hardcover $25.95.
Certain formulas help focus a writer’s effort. Adaptations of the so-called classical unities of time, place, and action advanced by Aristotle (for drama, not prose fiction) put helpful limits, and the pressure of limits, on the writer and the reader. That’s why island motifs are so popular. In theater, the arrival/departure frame has long been a design staple. Nancy J. Cohen exploits these conventions effectively in her in twelfth “Bad Hair Day Mystery,” featuring hair salon owner Marla Vail, recently married to Dalton, a South Florida homicide detective.
The romantic Arizona honeymoon that they are planning at the Last Trail Dude Ranch, to which they’ve been invited by Dalton’s cousin Wayne Campbell, the general manager, ends up being short on romance but long on adventure. Strange happenings, disappearances, and even deaths plague the resort and threaten to stall the completion of the companion effort – the ghost town at Craggy Peak. Both enterprises are owned by Dalton’s uncle, Raymond Campbell.
Someone, or some group, seems to be sabotaging both facilities. Equipment valves are left open, accidents abound, a forest ranger is found dead, and a worker is mysteriously missing. Raymond blames it all on a neighboring rancher, former friend turned nemesis Hugh Donovan, and Hugh in turn blames problems on his ranch on Raymond. Dalton has pledged to help his cousin and uncle investigate these problems that threaten to bring the family enterprises to ruin.
Naturally, Marla will help out. After all, this series in not yet Mr. and Mrs. North (or Vail). Marla was solving crimes before she and Dalton were an item.
The grounds of the resort are both beautiful and treacherous. Ms. Cohen lavishes attention on both aspects with vivid descriptions mostly cast from Marla’s point of view. She also presents the operations of the resort and the planned entertainments of the ghost town in vivid, engaging detail. Part of the fun is watching Marla’s slow adaptation to appreciating an environment and lifestyle so different from the one she has known in South Florida.
Readers will also enjoy her addiction to shopping and “what-to-wear” considerations at each step of her compromised honeymoon, which has turned into a test of nerve. Her days are punctuated by make-up touch-ups.
Nancy J. Cohen is the queen of the cozy mystery, but there is plenty of violence mixed in with the gentle tone and the good-natured humor found here.
And there are plenty of questions to answer. . . .
To read the entire review as it appears in the October 7, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Peril by Ponytail