Prince Albert, the sole male alpaca of Castle Creek Campground, is protective of his herd of females, especially the pregnant Penelope, so he’s alarmed one cold spring night when he smells a trusted human entering the females’ pen and leading Penelope away. Despite his plaintive cries, her absence isn’t discovered until the next morning, which shocks the campers and starts a round of accusations against June Winters’ family.
Recovering from a hip injury while traveling in a 30-year-old RV with her video blogger daughter and son-in-law, June is not only concerned about their online reputation, which can quickly be destroyed by a few baseless allegations, but at a crossroads in her life and looking for a new direction. Uncovering who kidnapped Penelope, especially when the campground’s owner, Blanche Bidet, refuses to call the police or even allow them on the property, seems like a good start.
She finds a few clues and makes friends with a couple of the permanent residents, although one in particular relentlessly blames June and her family for the kidnapping. Then Prince Albert disappears, but Blanche still won’t call the police and the finger-pointing continues, so June keeps investigating even when Rebecca and Noah ask her to step back. And she promises she will as she creeps toward shadows she knows holds danger.
This first Alpaca My Bags mystery is intriguing not only because of the unusual animals that attract campers to Castle Creek Campground, but due to Badger’s focus on June’s inner deliberations as she contemplates a life-altering disability, the realities of empty-nest widowhood, and returning to her catering business. By handling it as a genuine debate, rather than a simple subplot, June’s journey through that reckoning is on its own worth the price of admission. The kidnappings, the campground, and its resident oddballs add the rich flavor that sets Herd is the Word apart from the flock.