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Questions, Quarrels, & Quandary

Book 32 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series

Welcome to Normal, where NOTHING is normal.”Questions, Quarrels, & Quandary: A Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series Book 32″ invites you back to the heart of Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. The Cowgirl Campers, an all-women’s vintage camping club, roll into the Happy Trails Campground with their quaint campers, ready to indulge in the annual 127 yard sale and antique treasure hunting. But amidst the cozy camaraderie, a chilling event shatters the tranquility.

Local woman Etta Hardgrove, a consignor at the Tough Nickel thrift shop, catches the eye of a Cowgirl Camper with her distinctive jewelry. But when Etta is found dead, the Campers swiftly become suspects, mired in a town teeming with those who harbored ill-will against Etta. The mystery deepens, and no one can be trusted.

Meanwhile, campground owner Mae and her partner Hank have their hands full. Hank is preoccupied with a missing teenager’s case while Mae is entangled in wedding plans and premarital counseling that she’s not particularly invested in, much to the dismay of her friend Mary Elizabeth.

As whispers of suspicion turn towards the nomadic Cowgirl Campers, Mae, Dottie, and the intrepid Laundry Club Ladies embark on a mission to unravel the truth behind Etta’s untimely death. They dig deep into Etta’s past and scrutinize the traveling campers, all to ensure the safety of their beloved Normal, Kentucky.

From yard sales to murder trails, “Questions, Quarrels, & Quandary” delivers a captivating blend of cozy camaraderie, nuptial nuances, and mystery that will keep you guessing till the last page.

Questions, Quarrels, & Quandary


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Chapter One


The first rays of dawn were just giving the sky a good morning kiss when I pushed myself out of the cozy confines of my camper van. The world was still quiet, the birds just clearing their throats for the morning chorus. Now, a lady doesn’t often get up with the chickens, but that day had a special kind of promise to it. The kind that whistled through the pines and waltzed with the honeysuckle perfume in the air at Happy Trails Campground.

You see, my friend Dottie Swagger, the manager of Happy Trails, had a fancy for yard sales that would put a starved coonhound on a ham hock to shame. And in this part of Normal, Kentucky, located deep in the Daniel Boone National Forest, where kudzu draped over everything that held still long enough, we cherished yard sales like a preacher did his Bible.

In this town, every old bit and bob wasn’t just an artifact; it was a cipher of tales whispered in hushed reverence. As Dottie liked to say, “These ain’t just knickknacks, sugar. They’re whole lives, stories in brass and porcelain just waiting to be dusted off.”

The two of us had seen more sunrises over a cup of Trails Coffee special blend than a rooster on an insomniac’s farm, always eager for the Saturday edition of the Normal Gazette’s special yard sale section. After all, the early bird got the choicest pickings, and Dottie wasn’t one to lose out on a juicy find.

Dottie had a knack for it, I’ll tell you. The way she would stroll through those laid-out wares, you would think she was at a debutante ball instead of trawling through dusty, forgotten treasures. And it wasn’t just the thrill of a bargain that got her heart ticking. It was the stories, the hidden narratives behind every tarnished silver locket and faded family photograph, that set her eyes alight.

We found ourselves sipping our warm brews, our attention focused on one advertisement in particular.

“Benson Estate Sale. Starts at dawn. Early birds get the worms.” Dottie hummed.

Beneath the awning of my vintage camper van, Dottie and I sat at my picnic table.

“Look at us.” Dottie snickered. “We’re perched like two hens on a fence.” She fanned her cigaretted hand in front of her face. “It’s gonna be a hot one. It’s only six a.m., and the air is already as thick as molasses.”

“Lots of picnic-sitting this week.” I clicked my tongue and looked out onto the lake located smack-dab in the center of Happy Trails Campground. I lifted my mug to my lips and took in all the empty camper lots that would soon be filled by a group of traveling women, Camper Cowgirls.

From what I’d learned about them, they were a nationwide camping organization for women only whose ages spanned several decades and who came together as a group that loved to camp.

“Come on, Fifi!” I called to my toy poodle, who had gone on her own sniff walk.

My picnic table was strewn with the detritus of our summer Saturday-morning routine: coffee mugs still steaming with the dregs of brew and the Normal Gazette laid out before us like a map to treasure.



Dottie, the spectacle of our morning ritual, sat in her faded housecoat, her head a constellation of pink sponge curlers. Between her fingers, a cigarette smoldered, the smoke spiraling upward around the loose tendrils of hair escaping from her curlers.

She took a thoughtful drag on her cigarette, the tip blazing bright against the morning’s soft glow. The exhaled smoke curled up and away, mingling with the humid Kentucky air. With her other hand, she gently unrolled one curler, setting loose a ringlet.

“Woo-wee,” she cackled. “My hair is as bouncy and lively as a square dance today.”

Her gaze, sharp as a barber’s razor, was fixed on the newspaper, scanning the yard sale section with a focus that would put a cat on a mouse hole to shame. I swear, she could spot a promising sale from a mile away, just by the look of the ad in the Gazette.

“Lookie here!” she squealed in delight. “Curb alert at Etta Hardgrove’s!”

“Curb alert?” I asked, watching Dottie in awe. It was an art, really, the way she balanced that cigarette, the curler removal, and her fierce concentration on the newspaper.

“Oh yeah. Curb alerts are gold for free things, and Etta has the best items for free.” The cherry of her cigarette glowed in concert with the fiery trail of her freshly released curls, the newspaper rustling like dried leaves as she folded it in half and stuck it up underneath her armpit.

“I guess we are going,” I said. I knew Dottie was serious about the curb alert when she snuffed out her half-smoked cigarette. It’s the only time she would leave a smoke without giving it a proper send-off.


“Well, I reckon you didn’t hear me. I said”—and she pronounced her next words using her lips in dramatic fashion—“currrb a-lerrt. The mere mention of it sets my heart fluttering like a hummingbird in a flower patch. I told you Etta has got some real good stuff, and we’ve got to go before anyone else beats us to the punch.”

“What about the Bensons?” I asked. They were the oldest, wealthiest folks in town. They’d made so many donations to the Daniel Boone National Forest that my office in the national park building, where I was on the park committee, was named after the Bensons. “Their collection is sure to have some intriguing pieces, and it’s closer than where Etta Hargrove lives.”

“I don’t care. You said you’d go with me today, and today is the day. I’ve been waiting for Etta to have another one.” She clicked her tongue and clapped her hands to get Fifi’s attention. “Let’s get a treat!” she hollered, getting Fifi to run at full speed back to the camper.

“We have to be back by noon. The Camping Cowgirls are supposed to be here to check in for the week, and Betts will be here with the church van to take everyone to a late lunch at the Normal Diner.” I reminded Dottie of the large group reservation she’d made—and all the plans she’d agreed to without asking me, even though I was the one who would be making sure they were all accommodated.

“Time to shake a leg and skedaddle,” Dottie said, even putting Fifi in the camper van and returning with my keys. “That curb alert ain’t gonna plunder itself!”

The anticipation was as thick as good gravy on biscuits. Dottie jumped into my little car, housecoat and all, and we set off, armed with pocketbooks and sturdy shopping bags.

Dottie was a lady on a mission, little guessing that amongst those dusty relics, we were about to unearth a mystery that would turn our cozy campground life on its ear. But hey, that was life in Normal, where nothing was normal.

end of excerpt

Questions, Quarrels, & Quandary

is available in the following formats:

Tonya Kappes Books

Jul 27, 2023

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