Tag Archives: Bad Hair Day series

A Florida farm’s fall festival becomes a setting for murder

Trimmed to Death, by Nancy J. Cohen. Orange Grove Press. 288 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

This is #15 in “The Bad Hair Day Mysteries” that have won Ms. Cohen many fans – and many imitators – over the years. The author continues to maintain her status as the queen of the cozy mystery, a genre that she not only exemplifies in her own fiction but also defines and gives advice about in the expanded second edition of her guidebook “Writing the Cozy Mystery” (Orange Grove Press, 2018). There are four essentials: the sleuth must be both female and an amateur, and readers must encounter that sleuth fitting her crime-solving into a larger, multifaceted life within a well-defined community.  

Marla Vail, who runs a hair salon in the South Florida town of Palm Haven, is all excited about participating in a fall harvest festival sponsored by Kinsdale Farms, located at the western edge of Broward County. Local business bring attention to themselves by sponsoring competitions that attract entrants who sign up months in advance. The general public just loves the goings-on, the food, and the high spirits.

Marla has entered the baking competition, hoping that her coconut fudge pie will take the prize.

Cohen

Ms. Cohen introduces a very large cast of characters who are involved in the festival in some way. One, Francine Dodger, runs a magazine, another is a chef, and another is a food critic. The festival is a time for people to re-acquaint and to network. It’s also a time for fun.

Francine has set up a Find Franny contest for the festival, a kind of scavenger hunt that involves collecting cards, getting each stamped by answering a question correctly, and being the first to report to Franny with all of them stamped.

Only problem is that when Franny is found, she is dead: murdered!  

Marla’s husband – Detective Dalton Vail – will lead the murder investigation. Yes, you guessed it. Marla will be very busy doing her share of the investigation in her own way. For Dalton, it’s just another case – one of many that will occupy him every day and often for long hours.

For Marla, it’s a task (more like an addiction) squeezed in along with running her business, mothering Dalton’s 18-year-old daughter Brianna, running the household, networking all over own, dealing with her parents, etc., etc. Meanwhile, she is concerned about her clock running out before having a child by Dalton. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the November 29, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly and Bonita Springs editions, and the December 5 Fort Myers edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Trimmed to Death

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Honeymoon brings Florida sleuths to imperiled Arizona setting

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. PerilByPonytailFront

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.

Cohen

Cohen

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 

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