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Book Author: Claire Booth

ANOTHER MAN’S GROUND by Claire Booth: Book Review

Hank Worth has been sheriff of Branson, Missouri, for less than a year, but it’s re-election time in the county.  That’s because Hank was appointed to the job, not elected, when his predecessor gave up the position with less than a year to go in his term to become a state senator.  And if there’s anything that Hank dislikes more than criminals in his county it’s running for office.

He almost welcomes the phone call from Vern Miles, a landowner who calls Hank to ask him to view the trees on the Miles’ property that have been stripped of bark nearly to the top of their trunks.  Vern tells the sheriff that it has recently been discovered that there’s big money in the outermost layer of the slippery elm; it’s used to cure a variety of ailments.  (Seriously.  I looked it up on Google, and the bark of the Ulmus rubra is used as an herbal remedy for fevers, wounds, and sore throats.)  It’s bringing in much needed revenue, Vern informs Hank, but stripping the trees so high will likely result in the trees’ death, and he wants whoever did this caught.

So, Hank thinks, “This was excellent.  A nice little crime to investigate, but with no trauma, no violence.”  It turns out that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Miles’ property touches the land that belongs to the Kinney clan, and both families have been feuding for at least three generations.  The Kinneys are the most powerful family in the county, for reasons Hank is finding hard to understand.  His barber, Stan, finally comes the closest to putting it in words:  “They own people’s minds….It’s better just to move around with caution and respect when it comes to them.”  And when Hank makes a return visit to the woods and finds even more bare trees, this time on the Kinney property, he knows he’s going to have to face Jasper Kinney sooner rather than later.

At the same time, Hank is trying to keep his job as sheriff despite his distaste for the political machinations necessary to run a campaign.  His initial meeting with Darcy Blakely, his campaign manager, does not go well.  Added to that is the fact that his competition, Gerald Tucker, has been a long-time deputy in the sheriff’s department, while Hank is still an outsider by Missouri standards.  Plus, in Hank’s opinion, Gerald is much too involved with Henry Gallagher, the area’s most successful businessman.  Hank is pretty sure Henry is involved in arson, extortion, and insurance fraud, even though he’s been unable to prove it.  But Henry’s pockets are deep, and he definitely could sway voters toward Gerald.

Then a teenage undocumented worker is found hiding in the woods, and there’s an unidentified corpse there as well.  So Hank’s “nice little crime” is no longer nice or little.

Claire Booth’s second novel is an excellent follow-up to The Branson Beauty, which I blogged about in July 2016.  The characters, including Hank, his physician wife, and his African-American deputy, make the story real and compelling.  Another Man’s Ground is well worth another visit to Branson, Missouri.

You can read more about Claire Booth at this website.

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



THE BRANSON BEAUTY by Claire Booth: Book Review

The Branson Beauty is an old showboat cruising the lake in Branson, Missouri, a city famous for its country music and family entertainment.  The showboat is a big attraction in the city, or it was until it ran aground with a full complement of staff and passengers aboard.

Strange, thinks Sheriff Hank Worth, since the weather was clear and the boat has been on the lake for some thirty years without an accident.  It’s stranger still when Hank goes aboard to interview the captain, Albert Eberhardt, and finds him in the wheelhouse in what appears to be a kind of fugue state.

At first it looks as if all of the passengers have been led ashore safely, but Hank goes through the boat with first mate Tony Sampson doing one final check.  All is fine until they arrive at the captain’s dining room, which had been rented out for a private luncheon party.  There on the plush blue carpet lies the body of a young woman.

The corpse is that of Mandy Bryson.  She was a popular teenager in town, now a first-year student at the University of Oklahoma.  No one seems to know why she was back in Branson instead of on the University’s Norman campus.  Her parents didn’t know she was in town, nor did her boyfriend, Ryan Nelson.  He was on the ship with another girl, attending his grandmother’s birthday luncheon in that private dining room, and he tells Hank that he was unaware that Mandy was on board.  But is that true?

Hank Worth is new to his job, having been appointed sheriff when the former one resigned to become a state senator.  He’s not totally aware of all the ins-and-outs of the city’s politics, but he does know that Henry Gallagher, owner of the showboat and of much else in Branson, is an important man who doesn’t like to be crossed.  Despite Hank’s clear orders that Gallagher not talk to the captain, who is now in the hospital under police guard, that’s where Hank finds Gallagher when he himself goes to try to interview the captain.   And Gallagher is not at all apologetic about ignoring Hank’s orders.

Hank Worth is a great addition to the list of sheriffs in mysteries.  Although the position of sheriff is an elected one in the city, because of his predecessor’s departure for a higher office Hank has been appointed to fill the position until the next election.  He’s made friends in the short time he’s been in Branson, but there are some people who were happier when the former sheriff was in charge, including Gerald Tucker, one of the undersheriffs in the department who feels he should have been named sheriff; city counselor Edrick Fizzel, a man who lives to see his name in the newspaper; and, of course, Henry Gallagher, the wealthiest man in the city, one who’s not used to taking direction from anyone.

Claire Booth has made an impressive debut with The Branson Beauty.  The setting is terrific, and Hank Worth is a protagonist to watch.

You can read more about Claire Booth at this web site.

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