State Fair - Earlene Fowler

I've been reading Earlene Fowler's cozy mysteries for a number of years. Each is named after a quilting pattern that relates to the subject matter. In this case it's the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, just outside the fictional town of San Celina (which is fairly obviously San Luis Obispo).

Benni's aunt Garnet is visiting from Arkansas, and just happens to be right there when a murdered youth is found in one of the family farm competition exhibits. This youth, Cal, had a troubled background ... which included time with a white supremacist gang. Despite Benni's determination to stay out of investigating things on her own, Aunt Garnet basically drags her into the matter.

A subplot involving racist threats against Levi, the first African-American general manager of the fair, as well as some fascinating history on black cloth dolls and African-American story quilts, brings the whole thing together.

Fowler creates a town and situations populated by people readers feel as though we know (especially if we've read many of the books). While the tales do stand alone, it helps to have read several of them in order to be well-acquainted with recurring characters -- and their frustration with Benni's involvement in police work (her husband, Gabe, is the city police chief) where she has no real expertise but instinct.

When the whole plot came together at the end for the "whodunnit," I admit to being somewhat surprised! I had kind of pegged the "bad guy" early on ... but not for the reasons that were revealed. This is one of the reasons I so enjoy Fowler's books; you can pretty much expect the unexpected.