A county fair, so bucolic and seemingly benign. In Leave Tomorrow Behind, the sixth book to star the engaging and formidable Stella Crown, author Judy Clemens uses the setting for a cozy mystery that pleasantly conforms to the tropes of the genre.
Protagonist Stella digs into backstage manure (both tangible and metaphorical) as a Pennsylvania dairy farmer while working the agricultural youth group’s 4H events at the county fair. She and her fellow farmers, part of a fading agrarian culture, experience a groundswell of pride for the 4H-ers they’ve mentored as the kids present their animals for judging.
Into the contained rural environment come urban interlopers determined to win all the big prizes at the fair at any cost. Country music CEO Gregg has come to rub elbows with the agricultural populace and hype his label’s recordings. Gregg has also purchased award-winning cows for his supercilious daughters to flaunt at competitions. The clan engages in pastoral posing, donning the appropriate duds for the occasion, but never sullying the attire as bona fide farmers would.
A rising-star country-western singer of Gregg’s is scheduled to judge the Lovely Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. However, the popular and talented young woman is unable to fulfill her pageant duties—she is murdered before the event. Soon after, someone poisons Gregg’s livestock.
Stella is bent on solving the crimes. She is snarky and amusing, and Clemens imbues her with spunk to spare. Whether dealing with an interfering future sister-in-law intent on taking control of Stella’s pending nuptials, or the odious Mr. Gregg, she exhibits moxie and a wise, self-deprecating humor.
The novel fits snugly into the cozy mystery category, with a bit of emotional tweaking regarding the de rigueur hot romance: Nick, Stella’s so-handsome-that-he-makeswomen-weak-in-the-knees intended, has been diagnosed with a debilitating disease. Fortunately, he’s fallen for a gal who has stellar coping skills. Following their relationship is added incentive to read the next book in the series.