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Liz S. Andrews
The Ghosts of Notchey Creek
It's almost Christmas in Notchey Creek, and whiskey distiller 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 his ancestral mansion of Briarcliffe, 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 hung 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?
Andrews’s delightful second Harley Henrickson cozy mystery (after The Mist Rises over Notchey Creek) is packed with thoroughly believable red herrings that will keep even the cleverest readers guessing throughout. Harley Henrickson operates a whiskey-distilling business in tiny Notchey Creek, Tenn., that was left to her by her grandfather. Her childhood friend Beau Arson, raised in foster care, just learned his birth parents were immensely wealthy and left him a mansion in Notchey Creek. Beau moves from Los Angeles to Notchey Creek and settles into his new home. Then he starts seeing ghosts—and amateur sleuth Harley starts finding bodies. The two feverishly try to solve the crimes and out the murderer in their midst. Meanwhile, the townspeople are getting a little too excited about the upcoming Christmas festival.

From the first page, Andrews demonstrates a gift for setting vivid scenes, opening with Beau in his bed reading Great Expectations. It’s never quite clear how Beau ended up in foster care or learned of his origins; this was presumably explained in the first installment, but a quick recap would be helpful to newcomers. However, readers will readily overlook those small distractions as they chase the killers along with clever Harley.

Colorful supporting characters—particularly Harley’s famous pig, Matilda; muumuu-wearing Opha Mae Shaw and her pink Ford Pinto; Great-Aunt Wilma with her day-of-the-week wigs; and Great-Uncle Tater and his unfortunately flammable gingerbread shed—add hilarious touches readers will love. Andrews’s wry observations (“A pharmaceutical commercial advertised its latest drug, two of the side effects being uncontrollable laughter and projectile diarrhea”) also add considerable levity. This expertly characterized story will appeal to cozy mystery fans of all ages, and those of drinking age can indulge in the delicious-sounding cocktail recipes that conclude the book.

Takeaway: This funny and well-plotted cozy mystery, which boasts sharp wit and a clever heroine, will delight readers of all ages.

Great for fans of Joanne Fluke’s Christmas Cake Murder, Mary Maxwell’s Murder & Marmalade.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A+
Illustrations: -
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A

Kirkus Reviews

A sequel offers a holiday homicide case for a Southern whiskey distiller and sleuth.

Notchey Creek, Tennessee, is in the throes of the holiday season, and Harley Henrickson, whiskey maker and owner of the Smoky Mountain Spirits liquor store, is plenty busy. The festivities this year include a New Year’s Eve Ball at Briarcliffe, the local mansion on the grounds of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mansion has a new resident: Beau Arson, rock star and scion of the Sutcliffe lumber family. Unfortunately, Beau has been experiencing some paranormal activity in the house, which ghost hunter Justin Wheeler is happy to tell him is the result of a woman who killed herself in the property’s woods on Christmas Day in the late 1800s. The strange thing is that Harley and her pet pig, Matilda, have just discovered the body of a woman in those same woods. But when Harley stepped away to call the police, the body disappeared. After a second body—this one someone Harley knows well—is found, she realizes that she must once again set aside her whiskey barrels and put on her investigator’s hat before this mayhem ruins Notchey Creek’s celebrated Small Town Christmas Festival. Andrews (The Mist Rises Over Notchey Creek, 2018) spins her holiday yarn with a pleasing mix of cheer and dread: “Beneath the hand lay a mound of body, like a snowman fallen on its side, and Harley brushed the snow from the torso, revealing a woman’s black dress. She worked her way up to the head region, where threads of dark hair swirled in a frozen pattern on the snow.” The novel has a classic feel, and of all the day jobs that an amateur detective might have, whiskey distiller is certainly a fun one (and fitting with the Smoky Mountains landscape). The book is a perfect choice for reading by the fire after the Christmas guests have gone home, though it may keep readers up late into the night.

A deftly constructed and thoroughly enjoyable small-town murder mystery with a Christmas twist.