Author: Earlene Fowler
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime, 2010
Hardcover, 304 pages
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, Cozy, #14 Benni Harper mystery
Source: Paperback Swap
First Line: My day didn't start with a deep-fried Twinkie, although the thought crossed my mind.
It's time for the San Celina County Mid-State Fair, and folk art museum curator Benni Harper is busier than a one-armed paperhanger with the hives. What she doesn't need is her grandmother, Dove, being all riled up at having her sister Garnet visiting the ranch. You see, it's well known in the family that those two sisters, Garnet and Dove, "get along like two bobcats trapped in a burning outhouse."
Set in 1997, racial tensions are running a bit high due to the fair's first black general manager, Levi Clark; Levi's half-white daughter, Jazz; and a long line of Jazz's various suitors. When the replica of the famous Harriet Powers quilt disappears from the museum's exhibit at the fair and is later found wrapped around the body of a dead fairgoer in another exhibit, Benni investigates-- with the help of her great-aunt Garnet (who seems very well-versed in cop shows and mystery novels).
Benni and I have come a long way. I almost didn't continue reading the series past the second book because Benni's second husband, police chief Gabe Ortiz, was such a stiff-necked macho man. I persevered, however, and I'm glad I did. Fowler's characters aren't one-dimensional; they evolve through time.
The characters and the mysteries aren't the only reasons to read the books in this series. Fowler knows how to mix those two ingredients as well as humor, quilting, folklore (like the history of black cloth dolls in this book), and a strong Christian faith into a very entertaining journey with feisty Benni Harper.
If you're new to this series, it's safe to read State Fair without having read any of the others first. Fowler fills in enough details to keep you headed in the right direction.
For any of you who may worry a bit about my mentioning "strong Christian faith", these books are the furthest thing from being preachy, and the characters' religious beliefs are not force fed to the reader. More than anything, the characters' faith is shown as doing the right thing and treating others with respect. On the other side of the coin, if you're in the mood for a mystery series with faith and morals, I would suggest you sit down with Benni Harper and her family.