Christmas Cow Bells (Buttermilk Creek Mystery #1)
Author: Mollie Cox Bryan
Publisher: Kensington (2019)
Genre: Cozy Mystery
"Sometimes a place reaches deep inside of you, flows through you with light and warmth, and fills you with a sense of belonging, a sense of home. Brynn MacAlister's first view of Shenandoah Valley from the Blue Ridge Mountains - a blanket of green, yellow, and brown rolling fields and farms spread for miles into the mists - had grabbed her with certainty."
Brynn runs a micro dairy farm to support her cheesemaking. This farm was a dream she shared with her fiance, Dan. When their marriage plans fell apart, Brynn decided to go through with the purchase of the farm on her own. She now owns three Red Devon milking cows and is learning to love her new home and beautiful surroundings. Her closest neighbor, Nancy, is also new to the area. She lives on the property of an old church and would like to turn the church into a farm shop where locals could sell their wares. But many of the residents of Shenandoah Springs have deep roots, stretching back generations and don't like to see things change.
One night Brynn is awakened by sirens approaching her home. Her first concern is her cows and how they will react to the noise. She has one cow who lost a calf and has been bellowing in sadness so much that other residents have complained. When Brynn goes outside to check the barn, she notices the sirens are at her neighbor's house. When she arrives on the scene, the church is in flames. She frantically searches for someone who can tell her whether Nancy is still inside. Soon she is pulled from the burning building and transported to a hospital. After checking her cows, Brynn heads to the hospital. When she arrives she discovers that Nancy is being airlifted to another hospital. Brynn is just able to see her for a minute during which Nancy says, "Paul the contractor" or was it "call the contractor". Unfortunately, Nancy dies in flight. Brynn is devastated. When she learns that the fire might have been deliberate, she becomes concerned for her own safety. Who would want to hurt Nancy? Does this have anything to do with her plans for the church? Why did she tell Brynn to call the contractor?
The mystery kept me guessing until the end. There were plenty of suspicious people in the town and since Brynn was new, she wasn't always sure what to make of them. As she made some friends, their biases toward others also threw her off track at times. One of the men in town was cantankerous and seemed to be opposed to Nancy and her ideas for the church. However, when Brynn got to know him, he apologized for his owly ways and Brynn enjoyed visiting him and his wife. The characters grew on me over the course of the book. I didn't immediately take to Brynn or her friends, but by the end of the book I was learning to like them better and am looking forward to the next book in the series.
It was interesting to learn something about cheese making and the work involved in running even a small dairy. I enjoyed Nancy's college-aged grandsons. They came for her funeral and when the Bed and Breakfast their family was staying at no longer had room for them, Brynn offered her guest rooms for the boys to stay in. They helped her with the chores on the farm and often made her breakfast.
This was a solid mystery, with some interesting characters. I look forward to the next book in the series.