Book Review: Draw and Order by Cheryl Hollon
By Janet WebbJuly 21, 2021
Since returning to Appalachia, artist Miranda Trent has carved out an exhilarating and exhausting career. She inherited a rundown family farmhouse in rural Kentucky, which serves as her base of operations. Miranda organizes and leads hikes to a variety of scenic venues. Not ordinary tours, rather “a unique experience blending art, adventure, food, and drink in one package.” Once her groups reach their destination, they switch gears and under Miranda’s tutelage, capture their stunning surroundings on paper.
As the owner of Paint & Shine, a cultural-adventure tour business set in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Miranda wanted her clients to enjoy the best examples of Southern food possible. Her eastern-Kentucky farmhouse was normally the location for the meal. But today’s offering was an old-timey packed lunch to eat out on the trail overlooking the cliff formation called Battleship Rock.
Is there such a thing as armchair eating? If so, count me in because the hikers are in for a treat: crispy fried chicken breasts, green beans, pickled cabbage, pickles plus a mustard potato salad, corn on the cob, cornbread, cobbler, and a lemonade moonshine cocktail served in a mason jar. They are going to have to expend a lot of calories to do justice to Miranda’s lunch but she tells her kitchen assistants it won’t be a problem.
“These clients have assured me that they are fit athletes and can carry more than twice the weight of these day-trip packs. We’ll see. I mean, as a group they call themselves Risky Business Adventurers. That must mean something. This is my first remote-trail offering. I hope it’s a success.”
Miranda talks a good game but she’s worried. She’s already invited Austin Morgan, her neighbor, and an experienced ranger, to join the expedition. She’s also packed extra drawing supplies and equipment in case of an emergency. Forewarned is forearmed—hopefully, none of these precautions will be necessary. Battleship Rock is a challenging destination but it’s well worth the effort, which is why the Risky Business Adventurers requested it.
Given the distance of the hike and its remoteness, Miranda had chosen to provide a lesson in charcoal sketching rather than the normal activity of creating an acrylic painting of the Battleship Rock overlook. After all, everything hauled up to the vantage point had to be hauled down.
Miranda meets up with the six adventurers and longtime friends and they’re off. After an hour, they arrive in front of a vertical sandstone slab that has footholds going up to the summit.
It looks worse than it is but Ranger Morgan is there to share a little local history and do a basic climbing demonstration. However, he’s interrupted by Alfred who says no need, they’re all decent climbers at the “intermediate to expert level.”
“Well then,” continued Austin, “who wants to go first?”
“Me, of course,” said Kevin. “I always go first in our little adventures.”
Miranda bit at the corner of her lip. It looks like there are two leaders. One for travel arrangements and one as alpha male. I’ve seen this puppet leadership style before. It complicates everything.
Miranda almost falls climbing up but Austin calmly gets her settled and eventually everyone is up safely. The views are incredible but Miranda is out of spirits, telling Austin that she’s still worried. After lunch, Miranda gets everyone started on their charcoal sketches. After giving Jennifer some tips, Miranda lends her a hand to stand up but Jennifer slips and scrapes her palm on a sharp stick-like object.
A shudder ran down Miranda’s spine. That was not a stick. She picked up a nearby branch and poked at the leaves until more of the foreign forms were exposed. She felt a sick tingle in her teeth. The forms were not wooden sticks. One last scrape revealed a jawbone and a skull. They were human bones.
Jennifer’s screams bring back Ranger Morgan. It’s a crime scene now. Austin tells Miranda that Sheriff Larson and the coroner are on the way. Surely this is all an unfortunate coincidence, that a member of the Risky Business group discovered a skeleton. But as it turns out, the bones belong to Miranda’s cousin, Howard Cable, who was a former classmate of the Risky Business group. As far as the sheriff is concerned, hiking accidents happen. But Miranda’s cousin Howard grew up in this area: he was an experienced hiker, comfortable in the Daniel Boone National Forest. He wasn’t even off-trail when he died. Miranda decides to forge ahead on her own, with Ranger Morgan’s help. Isn’t it suspicious that Howard was a classmate, possibly a friend or more, to the fledgling Risky Business group? Miranda’s effervescent mother comes to stay and help her daughter correctly interpret the varied recollections of Howard’s family.
Her mother opened her arms and Miranda walked into a warm hug, “You know it’s going to be difficult to untangle Howard’s life. He was a strange duck.”
“Yeah, but there are so many secrets.”
Miranda persists, however, and tells her mother that Austin is doing further research on the group of suspects. Folks in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge have each other’s backs. Those secrets won’t be hidden forever—Miranda will find justice for her cousin and his still-sorrowing mother.
What’s next for renaissance woman Miranda Trent? It’s a condition of her late uncle Gene Buchanan’s will that she must produce his legendary moonshine to hold onto the family homestead. Will her fermentation tank be installed before year’s end? No moonshine, no farm. Stay tuned readers. Draw and Order is a splendid follow-up to Hollon’s first Paint & Shine mystery.