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THE HOMEPLACE by Kevin Wolf: Book Review

Chase Ford was a hero in Brandon, Comanche County, Colorado.  Or rather, he was the hero.  He was the town’s great basketball star who went to Hollywood, married a famous country singer…and then messed up, big time.  Now he’s returned home, but it’s not the same place it was when he left.

On Chase’s first full day back, he meets his former teammate Marty Storm.  Marty’s a deputy sheriff on the county’s force, and while they’re talking on the side of the road a call comes in from another old friend.  It’s Birdie Hawkins, now with the Colorado Department of Wildlife, and she relays a message through the dispatcher that someone has killed four buffalo on a nearby ranch.

That’s bad enough, but when Birdie gets closer to the animals to investigate, she finds the body of Jimmy Riley, star of the town’s basketball team and its brightest prospect since Chase.

The center of life in Brandon is Saylor’s Café, now run by Mercy Saylor.  Like Chase, Mercy had left town years ago determined not to return, but here she is after her messy divorce.

She’d been the most popular girl in high school, the most beautiful, the smartest.  She thought her life would be something special, but today she’s reduced to looking forward to Brandon’s big event, the Pancake Supper, and to continuing to ratchet up the tension between her two former boyfriends, Chase and Sheriff Lincoln Kendall, just as she had done during high school.  It’s not the way she’d envisioned her life turning out.

Now, in addition to the murder of Jimmy Riley, the town is looking for two missing people.  The first is Coach Porter, beloved head of the basketball team and the only man Chase has been in contact with since he left home sixteen years earlier.  The second is Dolly Benavidez, the high school girl who works part time at the café and is Chase’s unacknowledged half-sister.

The homeplace is Chase’s name for his family home, the one he ran away from as soon as he was able.  He couldn’t get it out of his mind, however, even as he couldn’t forget the people in Brandon.  Still wealthy, although his playing days are behind him, he’s the anonymous donor, through the bank, who has been paying taxes and making loans to townspeople who are in dire straits.  He’s never been able to forget Comanche County, although he’s certainly tried.  And then he returns for what he tells himself, and anyone who asks, is his last visit.  But Chase can’t shake himself loose from the crimes that begin the day he comes back.

The Homeplace is the 2015 winner of the Hillerman Prize, named after the late Tony Hillerman and given to a first-time author who writes a mystery set in the southwestern United States.  I went to the Hillerman Prize website to find out what the judges were looking for in awarding the prize.  The guidelines emphasize, among other points, character, setting, and dialogue.  That being said, it’s easy to see why The Homeplace was the winning entry.  Kevin Wolf nailed all three in his novel.

You can read more about Kevin Wolf at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.



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