Stella Crown works hard and loves her life. She runs her own dairy farm with the trusted help of longtime assistant Howie, rides her Harley on the weekends, and has enough friends to suit her just fine.
But on her twenty-ninth birthday, things start to change. A neighborhood child dies from a strange and threatening illness, a string of mysterious disasters place Stella and her farm in peril, not to mention her friend Abe showing up with a new woman on his arm, creating confusing emotions all around. Electrical outages, flooded barns, and cows running loose in the countryside are bad enough, but when her livestock begins turning up dead, Stella knows someone, or something, is out to get her.
Though doctors quickly announce the discovery of the neighbor child's cause of death, another child dies before they can declare victory over the illness, sending the community into a state of near panic. While trying to solve the mystery behind her own troubles, Stella begins to think she alone might hold the answers to the children's deaths.
Striking out on her own, afraid to trust anyone -- friends, neighbors, or the gorgeous stranger she's fallen for -- Stella must find her enemy before anyone else, including herself, ends up dead.
Set in Pennsylvania dairy farm country, newcomer Clemens's absorbing mystery thriller explores the impact of runaway development and loss of agricultural land on farmers such as her engaging heroine, motorcycle-riding, 29-year-old Stella Crown. The story opens with the aftermath of a calving as graphic as any similar scene in James Herriott's All Creatures Great and Small: "I tried to wipe the blood off my face, but my gloves were too messy... I looked down at my boots and they were hidden beneath birth muck and manure." This sets the tone for a series of menacing incidents-a leaking hole in a manure pit, a dead cow, a missing dog, a flooded barn-that spell trouble for Stella and others in her rural community. Worst of all is a mysterious illness afflicting children. The author excels at drawing true-to-life characters, including Howie, Stella's family farmhand of 20 years; Zach, her 14-year-old helper; Carla, the veterinarian who sews up the cow that delivers the calf; and her fellow bikers. An attractive barn painter and an old beau provide some romantic conflict, while a suave developer makes a splendid villain.
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Poisoned Pen Press
June 30, 2005
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