Fortunately, she has help: Del, a weathered ex-cowboy and employee of the shop, proves to be a useful ally and handyman, while bakery owner Bernie quickly becomes a companion and confidant of Morgan’s, as the two get involved in the charity and competitive running events that are popular among the region’s forested hills and mountainsides. Morgan also inherits two donkeys, Adelaide and Houdini, who have a habit of wandering off the property when the gate isn’t closed. During a search for the AWOL animals, Morgan makes a tragic discovery: the body of a teen girl lies on a hiking trail, apparently dead. When Morgan is able to receive a cellphone signal and call for medical help, she returns to the scene to find that the girl is gone.
There are many enjoyable elements at play in Stone Cold Dead, the author’s evocation of the wintry climate and the regional setting among them. But it is the characters, and their flaws and motivations, which make this story memorable for me. Through the book, the strong and decisive Morgan also has touching moments of guilt that she links to her decisions: could the girl have been saved if she had administered CPR when Morgan first discovered her? Later, she worries that she won’t be able to act fast enough to save another person close to her. Such emotional connection and doubt is quite powerful when built into a traditional cosy, and this recognition of Morgan’s vulnerability makes the reader empathize with her.
Dilts delivers another intriguing character with Piers Townsend, a new-age business owner and real-estate developer (are the two a contradiction in philosophies?) who becomes a potential love interest for Morgan while staying on the list as a prime suspect for the murder. In addition, Piers’ true motivation might be less than romantic, as he has previously tried to get Kendall to sell Rock of Ages… and the 75 acres of land attached to it. The relationship between heroine and potential villain keeps the reader engaged and the story moving along.
There is also an agreeable sense of humor throughout the book, from the conversation and camaraderie Morgan and baker Bernie share to the surprising role that donkeys Adelaide and Houdini play in the story’s crisis moment (and their resultant fame afterwards). It’s a winning mix of mystery, character, and snowbound setting, and by the story’s conclusion, the reader hopes that Morgan Iverson will remain as the adoptive shop owner in Golden Springs, and that doing so will bring the promise of future adventures.
Stone Cold Dead and its sequel Stone Cold Case are available through Amazon.com. Catherine Dilts’ website can be found at www.catherinedilts.com .