Delectable Mountains

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Continuing Earlene Fowler's popular detective series, Delectable Mountains is set in a small, ethnically mixed California community, and features folk art museum director and amateur sleuth Benni Harper. This time around Benni is busily caught up in the expansion of her museum and in helping to run a church school play called “Delectable Mountains,” when she and her police chief husband Gabe get a surprise visit from Gabe's cousin Luis. At almost the exact time Luis arrives, church handyman Walter Adams is found murdered in the church's sanctuary, and an antique violin that could be worth one million dollars is stolen from a neighboring mission.

While Gabe is busy investigating the murder and theft, Benni stumbles on clues that suggest that the well-liked Walt Adams not only had a disreputable past, but may well have been involved in the plan to steal the violin. Gabe also discovers some very disturbing things about the marital and financial problems of Luis. These doings culminate in a climax that finds Benni in a hostage situation with Luis that not only threatens her own life, but the lives of the “Delectable Mountains” school children players.

There's a definite vicarage feel to Fowler's mysteries, which helps explain why the series has received an Agatha Award. These books are steeped in small town characters, recipes for home cooking, church politics, descriptions of folk art and crafts, and the joys and trials of marrying into a close-knit Latino family. This book will definitely not appeal to readers whose idea of a murder mystery is work by Ian Rankin or John Sandford. But for those who enjoy a leisurely romp in a homey little community where nasty crimes occasionally occur, it could be a diverting read.