Cowgirl-to-the-rescue, Benni Harper moves in to help friend Shawna save her inherited cattle spread turned dude ranch from financial disaster. Harper brings a bundle of energy, her husband and stepson, and a duffel of good ideas to rescue the struggling venture by means of a promotional quilting vacation for rich neophytes to the West. Her attention is derailed, however, when some partially buried human bones are discovered on the property by an enterprising ranch dog. Whose remains are these? Was foul play involved? Is there a connection between the “accidents” that plague the ranch and the bones? Is Benni’s father, a longtime friend of the deceased owner, Shawna’s dad, involved?
Harper rises to all occasions: helping friends, serving meals to the unaware quilters, leading educational sessions both on horseback and off, putting out fires, protecting her father, and solving the mystery. She manages all this while deflecting the advances of a recurring sometime suitor and anytime nemesis in the person of Detective Ford Hudson, assigned to the case.
While the story is not overly profound and the main character is sometimes a bit too perky and pollyanna, the story moves quickly and is punctuated with interesting sidebars on the art and history of quilting, horsemanship, Western lore, and even a bit of botany (the soft-leaved plant, yerba santa, is known as “miner’s toilet paper”). The interface of relationships among the characters, while they generally ring true, at times seem to distract the reader from the thread of the plot. On the whole, though Broken Dishes can be recommended as a good read for a leisurely weekend.