Murder and Moonshine by Carol Miller (Minotaur, December 2013)
As a waitress and her later father’s diner, Daisy Hale McGovern hears plenty of local gossip, but she knows the southwestern Virginia hills hold more secrets than she could hear in a lifetime. Four years ago, her father and her father-in-law were killed in an explosion, leaving the H&P diner in the hands of her father’s partner Hank, leaving Daisy with the care of her ill mother, with more than a few secrets of her own. When her husband Matt leaves her without a word, Daisy continues on as best as she can, but when a reclusive old man stumbles into the diner one morning and promptly dies after uttering one word, Daisy’s world, and that of those around her, will be changed forever as the hills begin to give up some of their secrets. Two young moonshiners, Bobby and Rick Balsam are in the diner when Fred dies and though Daisy prefers to stay as far away from the young men as possible, she can’t help but feeling that Rick, at least, has noticed something more than he’s letting on, especially when he announces that earlier that year he purchased the 200-acres and house and buildings where Fred had most recently been living, known as Fox Hollow, known once to Daisy as the house she grew up in, the house that was in her family for as long as memory in Glade Hill is. Gun-toting Aunt Emily, who is everyone and no one’s aunt, and from whom Daisy and her mother rent rooms, is certain that Fred’s death was no accident, and that Fred was complicate in the death of Daisy’s father. Though she knows Rick and Bobby are for the most part no good, she is pretty sure there is a part of Rick at least, that is still true and decides she needs to trust him if she is to work out what has occurred. The appearance of an ATF agent stirs things up even more putting not just Daisy and her family in harm’s way, but perhaps an entire way of life.
A debut mystery, Murder and Moonshine is plotted with the steady hand of a well-seasoned writer; the plot never waivers once the course is set and has a surprise at every turn. The characters are well-drawn and believable; each is redeemable in their own way and will stay with you long after you finish the book. Daisy has done a lot of living for someone who has not yet reached her thirtieth birthday and is fierce in protecting all that she holds dear, but is also willing to give anyone a second chance. She does not brood on the past, but keeps it in her back pocket as a reminder of mistakes that people can make, hoping to learn from them and not repeat them. As the town begins to give up its secrets, Daisy grows weary of who she can trust, learning that she can rely on herself and her family to get through the tough times. Though there cannot be a completely happy ending, Daisy tries to make some good come out of the tragedy and unhappiness, made all the stronger from the journey.