Hemlock Falls, a village in upstate New York, is the home of the Palate Restaurant run by Sarah (Quill) and Meg Quilliam. The sisters are determined to make a go of their restaurant, having recently been forced to sell their inn because of falling profits. Their inn is now owned by Marge Schmidt, a lady with a brusque manner, but an excellent head for business. Under Marge's leadership, the inn has started to make a profit after only a few months.
Marge is presently hosting a group of Texas cattlemen who are trying to interest local Hemlock Falls residents in buying long-horned cattle from them to develop their own herds. A dinner is planned at the Palate Restaurant at which the cattlemen intend to present their case to potential customers. Meg has been contracted to prepare a menu featuring long-horn beef to show the locals how delicious it is.
Unfortunately, one of the cattlemen at the dinner falls ill and dies. Initially, it is assumed that Royal Rossiter has died of a heart attack, but with no history of previous heart trouble or other physical ailments, there is a good possibility that Mr. Rossiter has been murdered. Since the death occurred at the Palate Restaurant, and Meg prepared the meal, she is among the list of potential suspects. Quill is determined to clear her sister's name as well as uphold the reputation of their restaurant, so she sets off on her own independent investigation, not entirely welcomed by the local law enforcement officials.
A Steak in Murder is the seventh in a series of Hemlock Falls mysteries featuring the Quilliam sisters. Hemlock Falls is a small town, but from the number of characters mentioned in the book, virtually all the residents participate in the action. For a faithful reader of the series, the main characters are probably old friends and need no introduction, but for a reader new to the series, one would be well advised to consult the Cast of Characters provided at the beginning of the book. Being not very maze bright, I didn't notice this helpful list until I had read several chapters and was becoming quite confused trying to keep everybody straight.
The main plot of the book is fairly simple. One of the cattlemen trying to sell longhorns to local residents is murdered. Since the best opportunity to commit the murder rests with the sisters, they are determined to investigate. The complexity of the situation emerges as the investigation proceeds. There are actually numerous suspects with just as many diverse motives for killing Royal Rossiter. It takes careful attention on the part of the reader to keep track of all the potential suspects and their various motives.
When all is revealed, the ending falls a little flat. The culprit is not obvious, but the reader isn't privy to the information necessary to detect the villain until the very end. And several other people seemed to have a more legitimate reason for arranging Mr. Rossiter's demise.
The author does a credible job of teaching the reader something about cattle, especially longhorns. Since I am always eager to pick up bits of knowledge about diverse subjects, I was intrigued to learn about the differences between longhorns and black angus cattle. I also appreciated the technical difference between cows and cattle.
The author mentions the simultaneous blooming of apple blossoms and peonies. Although I have never lived in New York State, I have lived in several places with similar climates and to my knowledge, apple blossoms bloom in early to mid May but peonies don't bloom until mid to late June. A totally minor flaw to be sure, but Mother Nature would probably notice this one, also.
I am sure for avid followers of the Quilliam sisters this story will be a pleasant addition. For those new to the series, just be sure to consult the Cast of Characters as you read the first few chapters.