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Till the Cows Come Home    by Judy Clemens order for
Till the Cows Come Home
by Judy Clemens
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Readers tired of the typical, rather generic female sleuths - and anyone wanting a good new mystery - will welcome Judy Clemens' first book, Till the Cows Come Home. The protagonist is Stella Crown, a young dairy farmer and Harley motorcycle rider. We know we are in for something different when Stella opens the book covered with blood, afterbirth and manure following the difficult delivery of a new calf. Stella has grown up dairying and now runs her Pennsylvania farm along with long-time helper Howie and teenage Zach.

One of the pleasures of reading mysteries lies in exploring new subjects, whether in falconry, forensics or a fascinating historical time period. Here we learn about the work involved in running a small family farm and how such farms are increasingly threatened by suburbanites wanting to live in the picturesque countryside (meanwhile destroying it). Stella is surrounded by a cast of well-developed characters including assorted members of her adopted family, her buddies at the local Harley dealership, and slimy local land developer Hubert Purcell. When there are suspicious accidents at the farm - a dead cow, a flooded barn and a fire that almost kills all the young calves - Stella immediately suspects Hubert. Then several local children die of flu-like symptoms that turn out to be due to a mysterious toxin. The tension accelerates further when one of Stella's closest friends is murdered.

Stella valiantly tries to keep the farm running while investigating. Meanwhile she doesn't know what to make of her very attractive new helper, an apparently itinerant barn-painter. Is he somehow involved? Although a first-time author, Clemens does an excellent job of depicting an unusual setting (drawn from first-hand experience of farm life) and introduces a lively, one-of-a kind heroine. Her fast-moving, credible plot keeps us reading to see if Stella will be able to save the farm and herself. Let's hope that Stella will be back for further adventures!

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