Tar Heel author Ruth Moose, who for years taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, took a career turn in 2013, writing the mystery “Doing It at the Dixie Dew.”
The book won the Malice Domestic Competition for Best First Mystery Novel. (A fan convention, Malice Domestic also presents the annual Agatha Awards.)
Happily, it looks as if Minotaur Books has decided to let “Dixie Dew” grow into a series. Judging from the second volume, “Wedding Bell Blues,” fans have plenty to celebrate.
Once again, we’re back with Beth McKenzie, who just inherited her late grandmother’s house in Littleboro, an eccentric little town well off the Interstate (a stand-in for Moose’s hometown of Pittsboro). She turns it into the Dixie Dew Bed and Breakfast and is slowly making a success of it.
In “Wedding Bell Blues,” attention turns to Crazy Reba, the Littleboro bag lady, “a flower child gone to seed.” Reba has just announced she’s getting married, and though nobody believes it, everyone – Beth included –has been humoring her, helping her put together a trousseau, even a wedding veil.
Imagine Beth’s surprise when Reba calls, frightened. (For one thing, Reba never had a cell phone.) She finds Reba bawling at a roadside rest stop. Her apparent fiancee, a tattooed drifter, is lying across a picnic table, apparently dead.
Reba keeps saying she killed him.
Chief Ossie DelGardo, the New Jerseyite who’s Littleboro’s top lawman, takes Reba into custody and – in the grand tradition of policemen in whodunits – tells Beth to mind her own business.
Beth can’t. She sets out to prove Reba innocent.
Plenty happens, however, to distract her. Beth’s neighbor Verna, who’s nearly as far out there as Reba, winds up hospitalized when Verna’s pet rabbit named Robert Redford goes missing. Then, at Littleboro’s first Green Bean Festival, one of the celebrity judges is apparently poisoned.
Moose serves a generous dose of small-town humor along with the homicide and her Beth is believable and endearing.
Great Literature this isn’t, but it’s more than entertaining enough, with sufficient intellectual challenge that readers need not feel ashamed of themselves.
Wedding Bell Blues
By Ruth Moose
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 336 pages
Ruth Moose will be reading from her book and signing books at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.