"The Barn" By Sharon L. Dean: Review/Giveaway

Review by Kathleen Costa

Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook or print copy of this book and a link to purchase it.


Deborah Madison grew up in Shelby, New Hampshire, but just prior to her senior year, she and her best friend discovered the dead body of classmate Joseph Wheeler. Answers were not found, but life went on. She graduated, headed off to college, later married Nathan Strong, and had a little girl who she named in honor of her best friend. But tragedy struck again when both her husband and three-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident. Devastated, she returned home, finding comfort in the fellowship at a local church, earning a degree in library sciences, and spending time bringing the local library into the twenty-first century as its librarian. Deborah has been finished with Joseph’s murder for a long time, but circumstances have brought the issues back to the present with which she is reluctant to relive.

Rachel Cummings was Deborah’s best friend, and after losing her mother to cancer and her father falling into the arms of the nearest bottle, she and her brother Teddy had been well supported by many in the small town including Deborah’s parents. and as a surrogate mother and confidant, Joseph’s mother Mary Wheeler. However, her reaction to the disturbing discovery of her high school boyfriend’s lifeless body and subsequent lack of resolution was to runaway after graduation and never look back. She traveled, studied art in Paris, and now resides in New Orleans enjoying a successful art career. Unfortunately, thirty years later memories persist, nightmares plague her thoughts, and disturbing images inexplicably appear in her sketches. She’s returned to Shelby to attend the funeral of Mary Wheeler, and to help find needed closure, she vows to find out who murdered Joseph Wheeler and has come to solicit Deborah’s help.

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The Barn earns 5/5 Spying Cowpie...Totally Engaging! 

The Barn had always been suited best for illicit gatherings of teens hoping to get high, drunk, or canoodle. The building was old, the red paint peeling, but it was the large black and white wooden cow’s head, a leftover from a long ago dairy and dubbed “Cowpie,” that eerily stood watch from above. However, in 1990, The Barn was also an out of-the-way place to commit murder. Deborah and Rachel were the best of friends enjoying the last of the warm September weather, biking out to The Barn. There they recognized a bike propped against the wall, and inside they discovered the body of Joseph Wheeler...dead. Thirty years later, the murder remains unsolved. Deborah promises her friend that she’ll assist in the search for the killer, but with so much time having passed, evidence and memories long deteriorated, missing, or unreliable, and many residents not happy about opening old wounds, will their efforts be for naught? What about the anonymous threats to “Forget Joseph”? Are lives in danger?

Brilliant! Sharon L. Dean has penned a compelling first in her Deborah Strong Mystery series with my favorite element...a cold case! Set in New Hampshire, once called home by Dean and her husband, its chilly winter weather adds to the chill of the crime and its impact on the small community. Revisiting the tragic murder opens emotional wounds and fears, unfolds steadily with several intriguing theories and suspects, and the threats to stop could come from anyone. This wide-open element created an absorbing page-turner tempting me to fast forward to the end, but I resisted the impulse and thoroughly enjoyed the exploration, secrets, regrets, guilts, strained friendships, and like the impending storm set to hit the town, the ultimate reveal explodes! The first-person narrative focuses on Deborah’s perspective on the drama along with exploring her own tragedy and contrasting her grief experiences with Rachel’s. Through descriptive language and dialogue, Dean fills one’s senses from the wind rattling the windows to the freezing temps that brought snow and ice, and the characters and their personalities are well painted from introspective to overzealous, from quiet to angry, from remorseful to “keep away from me.” I couldn’t put the book down! I finished it in two day including well into the early hours. Don’t miss this drama!

Interesting! Susan Warner, the lead in Dean’s three-book Susan Warner Mystery series, has a cameo in this series as a reference since she lives in the area and had solved three murders herself.

Alert! Sharon L. Dean’s “next [Deborah Strong Mystery] novel in progress” is Wicked Bible. “After a winter when she solved the cold case of a high school friend found dead in a barn, Deborah Strong needs a distraction. She joins a conference, “Libraries: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going?” that will be useful for her work as a librarian in the small town of Shelby. The setting at a picturesque college in New Hampshire should also be healing. Deborah’s project for the week plunges her into a mystery that would delight most researchers. What are the connections between a New Testament dubbed “The Wicked Bible,” a woman called “The Wickedest Woman in New York,” a book written by a nineteenth-century author, and a letter penned to the author? As she slowly unravels the connections, Deborah confronts an event from her own past and anticipates a future that could be as brilliant as New Hampshire’s September foliage.”

Be a Big Sharon L. Dean Fan! 

Sharon L. Dean was a professor of English who chose to trade in the academic pen for writing mysteries incorporating Google-worthy historical links. Her three-booWarner series Review here on KRL News & Reviews (Dec. 2018) are standalones and highly recommended. Check out on Amazon: Tour de Trace (2014), Death of a Keynote Speaker (2015), and Cemetery Wine (2016). My suggestion? Read them all! A fun note…it's delightful that in book one she added a lavender streak to her silver locks, then in book two she changes to maroon, and in book three it was copper…I love it!

Facebook - Sharon L. Dean

Website - Sharon L. Dean

To enter to win an ebook or print copy of The Barn, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line "barn,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 10, 2020. US residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include mailing address if you want a print copy. BE SURE TO STATE WHETHER YOU WANT PRINT OR EBOOK. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! A new episode went up last week.

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Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is a 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying her retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband.
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Enjoyed the post, want to read more! Would love to get a print copy! tWarner419(at)aol(dot)com

  2. New author to me. Sounds like a great book. I prefer a print copy.

  3. Sounds good! Legallyblonde1961@yahoo.com


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