Book Review: Peril by Ponytail

Book Review: Peril by Ponytail by Nancy J Cohen

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  No other compensation was involved.  Also, this is an advance uncorrected proof, and there will be some changes in the final product.  (Such as fixing the typo on the very first page of the story.)

Peril by Ponytail

Marla Vail, hair salon proprietor, and her new husband Dalton Vail, a homicide detective, are on a belated honeymoon.   Dalton’s Uncle Raymond owns a dude ranch in Arizona, and is developing a ghost town as a tourist attraction, so they’re going to spend their vacation there.  But this is a mystery novel, so there’s no rest in store.  A forest ranger has died under suspicious circumstances, and there’s been a spate of supposed accidents at both the ranch and ghost town.

Raymond is pretty sure that another rancher he’s long feuded with is responsible, but Marla’s not so convinced.  Could it be the rebellious daughter; the wranglers with shady pasts–perhaps the ecoterrorists?   The “accidents” become more deadly as the puzzle pieces pile up.

This is the twelfth book in the “Bad Hair Day” cozy mystery series.  Marla normally works out of her hair salon in Southern Florida and uses her knowledge of hair care to help solve crimes.   She’s a bit out of her element here; the flat landscape of her home has not prepared Marla for a case that involves lots of hill and rock climbing, and she’s not a young woman.   She does spot a hair-related clue early on, but doesn’t really follow up on it, and the savvy reader will solve that part of the mystery many chapters ahead of the reveal.

One thing that irritated me as a fan of “fair play” mysteries is that ghosts and psychics are treated as valid (if frustratingly vague) sources of information; unless it’s a “one weird thing” story, the supernatural has no place in cozies.   I was also baffled by the absence of right wing/libertarian loonies from the list of possible threats given by the local sheriff.  The ecoterrorists are more germane to the plot, true, but the former have been in the news more recently in the Southwest.

The character byplay is pretty good, with Marla and Dalton having an active sex life just off camera.   There is quite a bit of family drama that screens the actual solution to the mystery as various members conceal useful information.

Perhaps in deference to the Western setting, the ending involves rather more gun play than one would expect from a cozy, nearly up to hard-boiled levels.

This is a light mystery suitable for vacation reading that’s not too challenging.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Peril by Ponytail”

  1. Sometimes I’m amazed at the stuff I don’t know that in retrospect I think I really should – and cozy mystery as a genre is one of them. For some reason I’m totally delighted by the term and the idea, and while I’m not sure this is a book I’ll be reading, I’m certainly adding a cozy mystery to my summer reading list. Thanks Scott.

    1. Any librarian will be able to point you to some good cozy mystery novels–and be glad of the chance!

  2. Hey, Scott. Like Deborah I’m unfamiliar with the term “cozy mystery.” Truly. I adore clever mysteries that don’t allow me to solve anything anytime, especially not by page 10 or early on. I’m intrigued by your mention of “fair play” mysteries and how ghosts needn’t be introduced as valid. Golly. I’m off to learn more.

    1. “Fair play” is big with mystery nerds–it means that the author gives you all the clues you need to solve the case, and doesn’t cheat by including “impossible” elements. (Although often in a fair play, impossible elements will seem to exist, and part of the solving process is proving that they’re faked.) Ideally with a fair play mystery, you should be able to go back and confirm that yes, all the clues were there and you could have solved it even though the solution came as a surprise.

  3. Hi Scott,

    I am learning something new here as well. I did not know that mystery novels were called fair play, or even what that meant. Learn something new every day!

    1. The absolute opposite of the “fair play” is the “clueless mystery” in which the protagonist is either a master detective who knows much more than anyone else and deciphers the case off-stage (ala Sherlock Holmes, sometimes) or is a complete stumblebum who just happens to luck into the solution, usually because they spook the killer into trying to kill them too.

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