'Bones in the Back Forty' a cozy Southwestern whodunit

‘Bones in the Back Forty’ lets you cozy up with a Southwest whodunit

“Bones in the Back Forty” by Marty Eberhardt

If you like your crime fiction light and lively, then Marty Eberhardt’s “Bones in the Back Forty: A Bea Rivers Mystery” is for you.

It’s in the popular mystery genre known as cozy. That means there’s an amateur sleuth (check), a cast of off-beat characters (check), a trail of clues (check), an absence of violence (check) and a small-town setting (half-check).

Bea, the protagonist, holds down a day job as education director/volunteer coordinator at Shandley Gardens, a large botanical garden in Tucson, and is the responsible single mother of youngsters Andy and Jessie.

And she makes times to be a sleuth.

A Shandley gardener repairing a remote fence line discovers a set of bones. A blow to the back of the skull appears to be the cause of death. The victim may have died – murdered? – back in 1969.

Bea and her beau Frank spend a romantic weekend in Copperton, New Mexico, where she may have found a clue on the identity of the dead man.

Marty Eberhardt

That sparks the interest of Marcia, Bea’s childhood friend and now a Tucson police detective who’s investigating the death. Bea gets off work to join Marcia on a trip to Copperton to pursue clues that might lead to the who and why of the apparent murder.

A plethora of characters, mostly in Tucson, some in Copperton, inhabit the book.

Bea’s ex-mother-in-law Bertha is more reliable than her ex-husband Pat when it comes to watching their kids.

Ethan is Bea’s boss at Shandley. Alicia is the wise president of the Shandley board, which installs Bea as acting executive director after bicycle-riding Ethan is injured in a hit-and-run. He’s in a coma.

Was it an accident? Is it related to the after-hours ransacking of the personnel files in Ethan’s office? Who’s following Bea in a tan Toyota Camry?

Armando is Bea’s adversary on the board. He may be feeding a TV newscaster false information about the investigation into the apparent murder. Bea sees Armando as self-serving and lecherous.

In small-town Copperton, there’s a trio of old-timers – Buzz, Ron and Tom – some of whom may be hiding information about their past and about the dead man – identified as the nomadic Crow.

The curmudgeonly Copperton couple of Gert and Mack maybe linked to the theft and questionable provenance of antiquities.

Gert and Mack bought their Copperton home from Alan and Liz Shandley. Alan founded the botanical garden and Crow may have worked for him there. (Liz was murdered in “Death in a Desert Garden,” Eberhardt’s first Bea Rivers Mystery.)

Copperton is fictional, but think Silver City, where the author lives. She’s helping the Gila Native Plants Society finish a master plan for a botanic garden.

Eberhardt has New Mexico roots; born in Albuquerque, she lived in Las Cruces as a young adult.

She has been the executive director of several botanical gardens, including the Tucson Botanical Gardens for many years.

She’s a longtime reader, mostly fiction. “I tend to like gentle mysteries. I don’t like to read about gore or violent sex,” Eberhardt said in a phone interview. “I guess my goal in writing is to entertain people and hope they gain an appreciation for the environments I write about and to think about some of the issues I nudge them with …”

She thinks her cozies are different because they’re injected with themes that transcend the element of murder, themes such as climate change, water conservation, single parenting and antiquities theft.

A third installment in the Bea Rivers Mystery series is in the works.


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