Vegan Brie Hooker lives and works with her feisty Aunt Eva at Udderly Kidding Dairy, a hop, skip, and jump away from South Carolina’s Clemson University. Brie’s fun farm outreach attempt backfires when religious extremists decide goat yoga is a form of devil worship. Believing one of the zealots might be persuaded to see reason, Brie’s free-wheeling friend Mollye convinces her they should call on the young woman. Big mistake.
Picketers at Udderly’s gates soon become the least of Brie’s troubles. Not only is she accused of murder, she worries the death might actually be her fault. Danger mounts when an old family friend’s visit ensnares Brie in a high-stakes feud between a U.S. Supreme Court nominee and the woman determined to expose his secrets. In her personal life, Brie’s still torn between the town’s two most eligible bachelors. While she’s edging toward a decision, she must first survive a cunning killer adept at crafting murders that look like tragic accidents. Will Brie be another “accident” victim? Pay a visit to Udderly Kidding Dairy and find out!
“The Brie Hooker mysteries from author Linda Lovely continue to entertain, this time with extremists who really don’t like the farm’s new goat yoga offering. You’ll find yourself muttering, “What the feta?” as you follow the action around not one but two murders from the edge of your seat. Fix yourself a chevre sandwich and sit down to enjoy a delightful – and suspense-filled – read.” ~ Edith Maxwell, Author of the Local Foods Mysteries and the Quaker Midwife Mysteries.
Small-Town Mysteries and the Cabot Cove Dilemma
My cozy Brie Hooker Mystery Series is set on a goat farm in a fictitious county in South Carolina’s Upcountry. Brie, a vegan, lives with her Aunt Eva, a dedicated carnivore, who owns the 400-goat dairy enterprise. Fictional Ardon County is sandwiched between very real Greenville and Pickens Counties, allowing my heroine to travel to nearby locations many readers know well — Asheville in North Carolina, and Clemson, home of Clemson University, and Greenville, in South Carolina.
Ardon County, largely rural, is populated by a mix of locals who’ve lived in the area for many generations and newcomers drawn to the region by its beauty and mild, four-season climate. Residents of Ardon County and the Town of Ardon tend to know each other, by reputation if nothing else. Feuds between groups within the county include long-standing family antagonisms and tensions between developers, newcomers, and long-time residents. This makes the setting ideal for a cozy mystery series since it’s easy for the newcomer heroine to draw on the local knowledge of her friends and family to ferret out old secrets and learn about new slights that could provide motivations for murder. Such in-person research is a lot tougher for an amateur sleuth in big cities where people don’t tend to have such intimate knowledge of neighbors.
The drawback to a small-town/community setting has sometimes been called the Cabot Cove dilemma. In the TV series, Murder, She Wrote, the heroine Jessica Fletcher lives in the small community of Cabot Cove. The question is how realistic is it for multiple murders to occur with frequency in a small town? And, once a fair number of victims have died and their murderers have been jailed or killed, where are the new characters to fill those roles?
In my Brie Hooker Mystery Series, I’ve tackled this problem by giving the heroine’s friends and family members who live in Ardon County and nearby communities. In turn, this network of people have friends or relatives who visit Ardon County for a variety of reasons.
For example, in PICKED OFF, the second mystery in the series, one of Aunt Eva’s friends is running for governor of South Carolina and her son, a quarterback for a professional football team, visits Ardon County to help raise money for her campaign. In turn, his presence brings in a number of other outsiders who have both good and evil intentions.
In BAD PICK, the newest book, Brie’s attorney mother, attorney mother, who serves as the prosecutor for the Town of Clemson, is paid a visit by her best friend from law school, who’s seeking moral support and advice regarding her determination to derail the appointment of one of their former law school classmates to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Of course, in addition to having people visit Ardon County, my heroine can also travel — much as Jessica Fletcher did — and find trouble in new locations. In fact, I’m thinking she may be considering a trip soon to South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
“How many people did you con into trying this goat yoga?” Aunt Eva asked as she slapped two strips of cold bacon in a skillet.
“No conning needed,” I answered. “Everyone’s looking forward to the class.”
“You sure goat yoga’s a good idea?”
I laughed. “I’m sure. People love it. Admittedly, a sense of humor’s required, but it’s caught on all across the country. Why don’t you join the fun? Class starts at three. We don’t have many Sunday customers this time of year. We’ll probably have the farm to ourselves by then. You up for some downward-facing dog?”
“No.” Eva harrumphed. “Don’t go insulting our noble dogs. Bad enough you’ll expose our baby goats to human pretzels. It’s bound to confuse the poor kids. Won’t know which human end is supposed to be up. They’ll think all us two-legged beings are bonkers. So who’s coming?”
“Jayla, our yoga instructor, wanted to limit the trial class to four students so it’s just Mollye, Fara, Mimi, and me.”
I pulled out a bag of frozen blueberries I’d picked at the Happy Berry Farm last summer. While Udderly Kidding Dairy, my home for the past seven months, boasted dozens of blueberry bushes, our four-hundred goats called first dibs on the fruit.
“Oh, and Paint’s shooting video to promote the class,” I added.
Aunt Eva chuckled as she flipped her sizzling bacon strips. “Not a hardship for Paint, videoing young ladies in nothing but skivvies and tutus.”
I glanced heavenward. “We don’t wear tutus. Our workout clothes show less skin than you do on the Fourth of July.”
Eva cocked an eyebrow. “Could be you’re helping Paint select babes for the weeks he’s not your designated beau.”
I opened the cupboard and grabbed a microwave packet of steel-cut oatmeal. “Paint sees a variety of ladies when we’re not dating, and he knows everyone in this class. No behind-the-camera scouting required.”
“Maybe, but as far as I know, he hasn’t seen any of them with their ankles up around their ears.”
“And he won’t today.”
“If you say so, but I swear my old bones creak just looking at some of those yoga contortions.”
Eva cracked two eggs in the hot bacon grease, while I used our microwave — a new kitchen addition — to thaw my frozen berries and heat the oats. My usual February morning fare. At Udderly, we didn’t chow down until the morning chores were done. That meant I was starved and in dire need of a caffeine injection.
Eva glanced over. “So how’s that boyfriend-for-a-week plan working? Who’s ahead in the Brie Hooker heart throb race? Any close calls on the clothing discard clause?”
I smiled. “Paint and Andy try to outdo each other in dreaming up ways to initiate a striptease. Despite their enterprising efforts, the nude- default clause remains unchallenged.”
Last November, I’d agreed to this bizarre boyfriend pact with Andy Green, our veterinarian, and David “Paint” Paynter, an entrepreneurial moonshiner. Though strongly attracted to both thirty-four-year-old hunks, I’d sworn I’d date neither. Didn’t want to lose them as friends or come between them. They’d been best buds for thirty years, practically since they left diapers.
The boys came up with an alternative. I’d date Paint one week, Andy the next, until either I selected a fulltime beau, one of them opted out, or a ridiculous nudity clause kicked in. If I disrobed on any date, the magician who assisted in making my clothes disappear would win by default. Both men swore the arrangement would not affect their friendship.
Me? I felt like I’d been locked in a chastity belt. Foreplay’s a lot less fun when there’s no after.
“You know it can’t last, don’t you?” Aunt Eva asked, giving voice to my own misgivings.
“Yep, I do. But like today’s sunny warmth — way too early for mid- February — I’ll enjoy it while I can.”
Jayla Johnson, our tall, willowy teacher waved as she walked toward me. Had to admit Paint would get an eyeful watching her stretch every which way. He was male, and Jayla was a stunner. As a shorty — I’m five four — I’d always envied long-legged ladies like Jayla. Somehow those extra inches made them look cool and sophisticated.
Luckily, Jayla wasn’t in the running to join Paint’s off-week harem. She was happily married to one of Clemson University’s football coaches and had a darling three-year-old son.
“Do we have a plan B?” Jayla glanced up at the Carolina blue sky. “It’s really warm for February, but the ground’s too muddy to put our mats down in a pasture. After five minutes, we’d look like we’d been mud wrestling.”
“Agreed. It’d be a shame to get that outfit muddy.” Jayla looked like an Oreo cookie, her ebony skin a sharp contrast to her snowy outfit. “I did warn you baby goats aren’t potty-trained, didn’t I? Accidents can happen.” “Not to worry.” Jayla smiled. “My laundry room has one whole shelf devoted to stain removers for husband-son accidents. So where are we setting up?”
“The horse barn. Plenty of room and it will be easier to keep Curly, Moe, and Larry contained.”
“Curly, Moe, and Larry are the baby goats — five-day-old triplets. We named the kids after The Three Stooges. Full of energetic hijinks. They’re also super cuddly.”
We turned as Mollye Camp’s psychedelic van crunched down the gravel drive. Her van’s midnight blue paint job served as a backdrop for a galaxy of glittering stars, a super-sized harvest moon, and a broom-riding witch. Moll, my best friend since childhood, was a gifted potter who sold her creations along with an eclectic hodgepodge of homeopathic remedies, herbs, and astrological doodads in her Starry Skies shop.
Moll jangled as she hopped down from her ride. She adored jewelry and had more piercings than a rapper. A vibrant purple streak adorned her white-blonde hair. She chose a new neon hue every month.
Mollye hustled over. “Who we waiting for?”
“Mimi and Fara,” I answered. “We’re keeping the group small for the test run. Paint’s shooting video.”
Mollye checked the amount of cleavage revealed by her scoop-necked purple top and inspected the seams of her orange leggings as they meandered south of her shorts. “Glad I didn’t wear anything too revealing. Don’t want folks thinking I’d participate in some racy video.”
Mimi and Fara’s arrival cut short Jayla’s and my eye rolls. Racy might not be Mollye’s middle name, but outrageous could be. I loved Mollye and her adventurous spirit though it sometimes landed me in hot water. Okay, in one case, freezing water.
With rolled mats tucked under their arms, the class newcomers looked like an odd couple. Mimi, who’d emigrated from Vietnam at age two, stood four feet nine on tiptoe, while Fara, a busty blonde with long braids, topped out at five ten. Mimi was a pharmacist; Fara grew up in her family’s funeral parlor and was now the town’s youngest funeral director.
Hard for this class to be more diverse. Paint would enjoy himself. “Hey, Fara, you boxing anyone up today?” Mollye joked.
“Maybe you after class,” the funeral director quipped. “You want the deluxe mahogany coffin or a pine box? I’m thinking you and Brie have used up eight of your nine lives. Better not exert yourselves today.”
Jayla clapped her hands. “Now children. Snarky is not the proper frame of mind for yoga. Think serenity. We want to clear our minds, be one with nature.”
I chuckled at the good-natured kidding. “Follow me to our classroom. We have the horse barn to ourselves. The smell alone will remind you we’re one with nature. I evicted Rita and Hank. They’re grazing in the pasture. Figured Lilly’s mule and Eva’s horse were more inclined to nicker than meditate.”
“Where are the goats in this goat yoga?” Fara asked.
“Eva will bring Curly, Moe, and Larry in after we start. We need to leave the barn door open for the light. Jim, our Border collie, will keep the little goat Houdinis from escaping.”
The triplets’ antics drove Jim nuts. Yesterday Moe pranced on top of a picnic table for five minutes taunting the poor herd dog. Jim ran circles around the table, barking in protest, unable to figure out how to nudge Moe back to her pen. After we placed our mats, Jayla led us through a series of simple warm-up stretches and breathing exercises. I’d been an avid runner and swimmer for years, but yoga was a new pursuit. I was pleasantly surprised to find its emphasis on breathing and mindfulness and its practiced movements helped me shed stress and fall asleep faster.
Believe me, falling asleep quickly is a prized skill for anyone required to rise before the sun. At Udderly, one of my jobs appeared to be waking the roosters.
Jayla announced the cat pose. I knelt on my mat and set my arms to provide four-point support. Then I arched my back like cats do when threatened. I lowered my head, giving my neck muscles a pleasant stretch.
“Looking good, ladies.” With my head down I heard the man’s voice before I saw him.
“Don’t mind me,” the newcomer continued. “I’m gonna wander around and take photos.”
The sexy baritone belonged to Paint. It should be outlawed.
“Have fun, kids — human and goat.” Eva laughed as she let the baby goats loose in the barn. Moe immediately darted under my arched back, executed a one-eighty, and raced back again as if she were playing a game of London Bridge.
My concentration faltered as Curly discovered she had easy access to one of my earlobes and began to nibble with her lips. It tickled.
Fara broke out laughing as Larry scrambled up her arched back and danced a little jig on his newly discovered perch.
“I’ve got a miniature geisha doing a four-footed massage.” Fara giggled. “Actually feels kind of good, though very strange.”
“No talking,” Jayla admonished. “Concentrate on your breathing, your muscles. Be one with nature.”
Paint hooted. “Nature’s winning.”
Paint obviously felt he was exempt from Jayla’s no-talking reprimand. The instructor began laughing, too. Moe had curled her body around Jayla’s legs as she attempted to hold the Big Toe pose.
We were all bent in half, butts in the air, when a loud voice brayed, “Oh dear God, save us. They are bowing to the devil, mocking the Lord Jesus by thrusting their bottoms at heaven above.”
What the feta?
I snapped around to see who was calling us devil worshippers. Was this a joke?
Flipping out of downward dog, I body slammed the mat. A second after hitting the plastic, a furry comedian bounced against my side. Curly shook her head as she attempted an impressive four-legged hop. She’d taken my tumble to the ground as an invitation to play. The little goat butted my side again.
“Lord Jesus, help us keep these devil worshippers from claiming more souls!” the stranger bellowed.
I was flabbergasted. No other word for it. Then my shock morphed into anger. Who did this woman think she was, calling us devil worshippers? Who invited her to our private workout? How did she even find out about it?
The plump leader held a super-sized wooden cross before her as if she were fending off a clutch of vampires. I figured her for mid-fifties. Gray streaks wound through her mousy brown hair. Light glinting off oversized spectacles lent her the look of an alien with round yellow bug eyes.
Two cross-carrying acolytes hovered about a foot behind her.
Were these people serious? I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. My heartbeat raced. Angry? You betcha.
I almost yelled one of my old-time favorite curses. Years back, I cleaned up my salty language for dear old Mom. As a vegan, processed- meat-and-cheese exclamations had become my exclamatory substitutes. But Cruddy corndogs! didn’t quite express my outrage.
Mollye, closest to the barn door, marched toward the scowling leader. “Susan, what in blazes do you think you’re doing?” she growled. “I got a restraining order to keep you and your looney-tune zealots off my property. Now you’re following me?”
“I didn’t know you’d be here,” the intruder raged, “though I’m not surprised. Goat yoga! What blasphemy. At church this morning, one of our faithful told me you were planning this abomination. I prayed on it, and decided we had to stop the spread of this evil in Ardon County.”
She waved her cross at us. “In the name of the Father and the Son we demand — “
“You need to leave,” Paint spoke through gritted teeth. “The only evil here is you.”
Susan closed her eyes and rocked back and forth on her heels. “You are Satan’s handmaidens duping people into believing Baphomet goat worship is fun.”
Susan’s diatribe was accompanied by a murmur of “Amen, Sister, Amen” from her backups. The sidekicks still wore church-go-to-meeting dresses, nylons, and heels. They kept sneaking peeks at the ground. Worried their high heels might sink in goat doo-doo during their barnyard sortie?
One of the acolytes looked to be Susan’s age; the other much younger, about my age.
“Knights Templar worshipped Baphomet as a deity.” Susan’s tone changed. Her words flowed in a singsong chant. “These monsters with their snake eyes are his descendants.”
“Are you nuts?” Jayla broke in. “How can you think these adorable babies are evil?”
Susan’s rant hadn’t cowed my friends.
The harpy wasn’t deterred. “Open your eyes. The Satanic goat is a source of evil.” Her yellow bug eyes flashed at each of us in turn. “You worship the Devil. We won’t allow your sickness to infect the pious people of Ardon County.”
Aunt Eva appeared in the barn door carrying two pails of goat milk. “You’re trespassing and you’re scaring the baby goats.”
My aunt’s face flamed red.
“We’ll leave,” Susan said. “But this isn’t over. We will fight to the death for the soul of Ardon County. Goat yoga will not corrupt our world.”
Curly made a break for it. The tiny kid ran pell-mell toward the barn door, which happened to be a few feet beyond where the intruding trio stood. Susan screeched. Did she really believe the Devil inhabited the itty- bitty creature?
The woman raised her leg to kick Curly.
Eva flung both buckets of goat milk, drenching Susan. The white liquid plastered her beehive hairdo to her scalp and her puffy blouse to her chest.
Oh my, was she really wearing a flaming red teddy under her prim white cotton?
A laugh bubbled up. I laughed so hard I doubled over.
Susan shrieked like a storm-warning siren and ran. Though only a few drops of goat’s milk spattered her companions, they caterwauled like they’d been doused with acid as they scurried after their leader.
The entire Udderly Kidding Dairy crew exploded in laughter.
Eva halted her hee-haws long enough to imitate a cackling witch. “You’ve been baptized with the milk of Baaa-Phooey. Your souls belong to us!”
Susan spun when she reached a shiny Chevy van. “You’ll pay for this!” she yelled. “Laugh all you want. You’ll see Hell sooner than you thought.”
I quit laughing as abruptly as I’d started. It was Susan’s tone not her words that gave me the heebie-jeebies. We’d embarrassed the woman. Humiliated her. Perhaps she’d started this protest as some form of ecclesiastical theater, art for show, a way to rally the troops.
Now it was personal. Susan had been scorned.
Excerpt from Bad Pick by Linda Lovely. Copyright 2019 by Linda Lovely. Reproduced with permission from Linda Lovely. All rights reserved.
Hundreds of mystery writers have met Linda Lovely at check-in for the annual Writers’ Police Academy, which she helps organize. Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and ad copy. She writes a blend of mystery and humor, chuckling as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her new Brie Hooker Mystery series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. Bad Pick is her eighth published mystery novel. She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America.
Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!