Books Reviews

The Barn

The Barn by Sharon L. Dean


A barn with a wooden cow’s head peeking out of the loft…
Two girls bicycling on a September day in 1990…
The friend they find dead in the barn…

For the next thirty years, the case of Joseph Wheeler’s murder lies as cold as a New Hampshire winter. Deborah Strong has settled in the town she grew up in, learning to heal after her friend’s murder, and later, the deaths of her husband and child in an automobile accident. When her former best friend Rachel Cummings returns home for the funeral of Joseph’s mother, the precarious peace Deborah has found as the town’s librarian is threatened.

Against the backdrop of the beautiful but cold New Hampshire landscape in January, Deborah and Rachel reopen the cold case of their murdered friend, and uncover secrets about their neighbors that have festered for thirty years, as they often do in small towns.

The Barn is a story of friendship lost and recovered, of secrets buried and revealed, and of the power in forgiving others… and ourselves.


This is the first book in the Deborah Strong mystery series by Sharon L. Dean. It is a standalone book.

I read it because I received an ARC of the second book to review, and I dislike leaving previous books of a series unread.


  • Premise

Two estranged friends meet after many years and experiences to try to solve the murder of a common friend.

  • Writing

Vivid descriptions of the small town Shelby, its people, and its climate.

  • Mystery

Enough secrets and suspense to keep readers guessing.

  • Protagonist

Likable, strong woman. A librarian!


  • Plot and character development

Joseph and Mary Wheeler’s deaths drive the story. Yet, not enough details about their characters or their lives.

  • Relationships

– Rachel and Deborah are friends who have been out of touch for long. When they join to solve a murder, you would expect them to talk. However, you see them finding more significant secrets about each other than the murder.

– The relationship between former librarian Bertha and Seth raises many questions but Dean leaves us to wonder and speculate.

– The story is peppered with mentions of Lucille’s life and experiences, perhaps just to add to the mystery. Dean tells you that Mary and Lucille were friends but fought right before Mary’s death. She hints at the reason but does not elaborate on that, probably because it is unrelated to the murder.

  • Cross-reference to other book series

Susan Warner, the protagonist of Dean’s Susan Warner Mystery series, makes a cameo appearance. I expected her to reveal something of great importance or help Deborah and Rachel solve the mystery. However, that was not to be. The whole idea seemed rather wasteful.

  • Sleuthing

Deborah and Rachel did not appear to do much active ‘detecting’. All they seemed to do was ask around, annoying people who wished to forget the past and get on with their lives.

To summarize, a good book that didn’t quite hit the spot. I wanted to shake the story hard and wait for everything to settle in the hope that when they did, all the elements would sit right.

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