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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

by Laura Haywood

In this issue:

Books - If you like a good mystery that gives more than just clues and violence, run do not walk to your nearest bookstore for a copy of Earlene Fowler's Steps to the Altar


Steps to the Altar
by Earlene Fowler, 320 pages
Berkley Publishing Group

I like novels particularly mysteries that give me more bang for my buck. Oh, I want a good "who done it," but I also want characters I can like and root for, and if the book also opens up a new interest for me, so much the better.

A case in point is the Benni Harper series by Earlene Fowler. There are nine books (so far) in the series; Steps to the Altar is the most recent. The others are:

Fool's Puzzle
Irish Chain
Kansas Troubles
Goose in the Pond
Dove in the Window
Mariner's Compass
Seven Sisters
Arkansas Traveler

If those titles sound a little odd, it's because each one is taken from the name of a quilting pattern. Not interested in quilting? Neither was I until I discovered Ms. Fowler's work, which is delightful. Ms. Fowler doesn't overwhelm you with quilting lore; she just tosses it in so that your interest is perked and you find yourself dropping into quilting stores and watching the Antiques Roadshow.

Each book is a stand-alone mystery and a cracking good one. But each also advances the lives of the main characters, which include Benni Harper, who runs a folk art museum; Gabe Ortiz, her husband, who's police chief in San Celina, where most of the stories take place; her grandmother, Dove; her best friend, Elvia; and her fifth-cousin, Emory, who is engaged to Elvia. These people learn and grow in each book and throughout the series.

In Steps to the Altar, Benni is coping with two weddings (Elvia's and Dove's); the local Mardi Gras festival; and the arrival in town of one of her husband's former LAPD partners, a gorgeous blonde who clearly has more than reminiscences on her mind. Benni doesn't need a murder mystery, particular one more than 50 years old, but that's what the local historical society dumps on her in the form of papers that belonged to Maple Bennett Sullivan. Maple vanished many years earlier after having murdered her husband or so the story goes. Benni is talked into reviewing the papers and becomes convinced that Maple is innocent. Her investigations aren't welcomed by some San Celina residents, leading to complications.

Earlene Fowler writes with grace and wit. Her characters are beautifully drawn and very likeable. And her plots are intricate, but believable. If you like a good mystery that gives more than just clues and violence, run do not walk to your nearest bookstore.


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