The Dead Cattle Ranch Mystery is a novel about adapting to new surroundings and making the best of them. It’s also a fun and exciting story that will present middle grade readers with a challenging mystery to solve and appeal to “reluctant” young adult readers as well.
When his dad is deployed for a year of military service, Francis and his mom go to live with his grandfather and help on the family ranch. As he explores the property and learns to ride a horse, “Frank” keeps his ears and eyes open to try and discover who has been poisoning his grandfather’s cattle. He also has to keep clearing his own name, as things keep going inexplicably wrong whenever he’s around. With the help of a new friend, he’s able to see justice served.
Author Madeleine Carroll does several things right here. The book is meticulously well-written and edited, and the mystery’s plot holds up to scrutiny; until the very end we’re guessing at whodunit, which increases the fun. The family members are devout Christians who pray for guidance when the going gets rough, and their faith is seamlessly incorporated into the story. The conflict between rural communities and “newcomers” is well done and would be a great discussion topic for a youth book club.
While readers of more challenging young adult fiction may find The Dead Cattle Ranch Mystery too pokey, the protagonist, rural setting, and mystery should rope in reluctant readers with ease. Even adults may find themselves concerned for this family, their land and way of life. This is one Mystery that has broad appeal.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.