Author: Claire Booth
Series: Sheriff Hank Worth #1
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: July 19, 2016
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman
Hank Worth, the newly appointed sheriff of Branson County, Missouri is called out on a frigid day in January to assist with the beaching of the paddleboat Branson Beauty. Somehow its paddlewheel is stuck in some rocks. The captain is found comatose in his wheelhouse, and a full load of passengers is stranded on the boat in the middle of the lake for over six hours. Once that issue is resolved, Hank thinks his job there is done until he discovers the body of a recent high school homecoming queen on the boat. Hank has experience with murders from his time working with big city police units, but the people of Branson County are not used to murders in their small tourist town. As Hank investigates the murder, he must deal with ex-boyfriends, gun-wielding former classmates, wealthy persons of interest, the boat’s owner, and pompous politicians. Each has a story to tell, and each could be linked with the murder. Hank’s biggest challenge is to figure out who is telling the whole truth, who truly has nothing to do with the girl’s death, and who can be eliminated from suspicion. His methods provide readers with a fun series of stories that connect the townspeople to the culprit(s) in the girl’s death and open up secrets for many of the locals.
There is a wide cast of characters that appear as the investigation unfolds, and each one has something interesting to add to the story. Some have nothing to do with the murder, but they still provide a fun addition to an already interesting whodunnit. Trips to the deceased’s college, run-ins with the boat’s wealthy and uncooperative owner, and clashes with the “good old boys” of the previous sheriff’s regime all add up to a fun and intriguing murder mystery story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for its storyline and for its captivating characters. Claire Booth knows how to put together a good mystery without revealing too much too soon. I loved trying to figure out who could have done the crime from a very long list of realistic and flawed townspeople. Having come from a small town in the midwest myself, I can easily imagine being there. I’ve also visited Branson, and after that, I can see in my head where the people live, work, and play. Having familiarity with the area made the book that much more fun and captivating, and I appreciate that. A good murder mystery can happen anywhere, but when it’s in the reader’s backyard, it’s all the more inviting.
I really enjoyed getting to know Hank as I read the book for his strong desire to do the right thing and for his flaws. He is human, and while he would like to do everything right, sometimes that doesn’t happen. His temper can get him into trouble, but at the end of the day, he does his best to follow the law and to take care of his good and faithful employees.
Based on the way the book ends, it’s possible that another book about Hank and Branson could happen sometime in the future. Hank’s colleague Sheila shows promise of becoming a good, well-developed character as well, and I hope that she gets her own story soon.
The Branson Beauty takes place in a small tourist town known for its paddleboat tours and musical shows. While it seems like a wholesome location, bad things do happen, and they are brought to light in this book. There is a murder described in somewhat grisly detail, and additionally, there is some harsh profanity (the s-word and the f-word) sprinkled throughout the book for effect. It is not overdone, and readers who can handle profanity and violence should have no problem getting through the book. It is well-written, fun, and interesting. I highly recommend it for mature readers.