Willow Crier has moved to Oklahoma from undetermined parts north as a result of inheriting her grandfather’s ice cream shop and is determined to make it – and herself – a go in the tiny town of Turtle. She begins by entering cook-offs, the latest featuring chili, and encounters her first difficulty driving home with her supplies – a fellow motorist, angry that she’s ambling far below the speed limit, throws a road rage fit at Willow’s window, which she and her fellow drivers record. She shrugs it off until she shows up for the contest – and finds that the road rage lady is none other than Delonda Posey, vicious local food vlogger and one of the three competition judges. Add to that the fact that the lady in the next stall is the sanctimonious Annabelle Butterfield, who needles Willow on everything from her northern heritage to her lack of makeup, and it looks like it’s going to be a rough day.
And then Delonda lands face down in a bowl of chili, instantly dead.
After being quickly cleared of the murder, Willow takes it upon herself to solve the crime, and at the same time, strikes up a romance-tinged friendship with Turtle police chief Steve Grier. He helps her find a companion dog, Clover, and the three of them work to find the killer. Seems Delonda had a long list of enemies, so Willow also enlists the help of her college-aged daughter, Embry, and several friends, most of whom had suffered under the judge’s sharp tongue, and patch clues together to discover just who in this tiny Southern town wanted to kill Miss Posey – although the four-legged detective makes the final call.
This is a sweet and enjoyable mystery, but its flaws are numerous. Ms. York doesn’t provide any background for Willow – where she came from, whether she’s divorced or widowed, no family connections to Oklahoma other than the fact her grandfather owned the ice cream shop she inherited. Nor does the author reveal until Chapter 8 that Delonda Posey was African-American, through a tone-deaf remark by the deceased’s mother about a particular enemy: “She was some little white girl … all you people look the same to me.” Delonda also had a concerned boyfriend, Tayven, who Willow promises to keep informed, but he vanishes from the pages after their first conversation. Also distracting are the sheer number of typos, the most egregious being the use of “communist” instead of “columnist” in Chapter 17. Hopefully all these errors will be resolved in future installments, as this is a nice start to what could be a cute cozy series.