Author: Marlene M. Bell
Series: Annalisse, #4
Publication date: December 5th 2022
Genres: Adult, Crime, Mystery
A rural New Zealand vacation turns poisonous.
Antiquities expert Annalisse Drury and tycoon Alec Zavos are at an impasse in their relationship when Alec refuses to clear up a paternity issue with an ex-lover.
Frustrated with his avoidance when their future is at stake, Annalisse accepts an invitation from an acquaintance to fly to New Zealand—hoping to escape the recent turbulence in her life.
But even Annalisse’s cottage idyll on the family sheep farm isn’t immune to intrigue.
Alec sends a mutual friend and detective, Bill Drake, to follow her, and a local resident who accompanies them from the Christchurch airport dies mysteriously soon after. A second violent death finds Annalisse and Bill at odds with the official investigations.
The local police want to close both cases as quickly as possible—without unearthing the town’s dirty secrets.
As she and Bill pursue their own leads at serious cost, the dual mysteries force Annalisse to question everything she thought she knew about family ties, politics, and the art of small-town betrayal.
Today we’re on the way to Woolcombe Station and in livestock country big time. I’ve researched the current sheep population at almost thirty million, at a rate of about five sheep for every person in New Zealand. Sheep and lamb numbers continue to drop due to loss of the land needed to produce meat and wool. Raising vineyards for wine grapes has become popular, and many farmers have turned to dairy farms, not to mention the urban development to house an increase in the country’s overall population. In the past twenty years, New Zealand has gained two million residents. What began as seventy million sheep in 1982 has rapidly been on the decline.
The animal kingdom still dominates this nation. From the moment we hop in our SUV and hit the main route toward Woolcombe Station, the hillsides’ deep crevices spill into miles upon miles of rocky pastures less suitable for humans but more to grazing animals like sheep and crossbred cattle. I don’t recognize any single cattle breed except perhaps black Angus. Cows of mixed colors and shapes, some with horns, most without, support a hearty gene pool of four-legged critters, with ancestors that made ship voyages as far back as the 1800s. In addition to the one hundred thousand indigenous Māori population, first New Zealand settlers were convicts from penal colonies in Australia, or they traveled over three months on the ocean, seeking seals and whales for fur, fat, and lamp oil.
Out my window, red-roofed homesteads nestle at the base of taller peaks, surrounded by large, natural Totara shade trees, owner-operator granaries, woolsheds, and cooking stations. Bunkhouses for workers and shearers are rough and unpainted, broken down from age—a throwback from the war years when the world began to hum back to life in the 1970s after Vietnam. Those wars include Aussies and Kiwis fighting alongside the United States against aggressors pushing communism on a gullible public.
Bill and I drive past a smaller station, paddocks and chutes sporting little white bodies awaiting the shearers. I hope Bill will get to see how shearing is undertaken while we’re visiting, or Ethan can show us another station with shearers at work. I’d like to photograph them in action.
“This is going to sound like a stupid question, but what exactly is a sheep station?” Bill asks. “We have farmers raising sheep in our country, but I’ve never heard anyone call them stations. What am I missing?”
I smile. “Kate says there’s no such thing as a stupid question, and she’s right. A sheep station is their terminology for sheep farms in Australia and New Zealand. We’re going to see how farmers and ranchers make a living in rough, mountainous country. Their livelihoods depend totally on their sheep and cattle management.”
“With sheep, there’s more labor involved because of the shearing. Most breeds grow fleece that have to be shorn at least once a year. A few breeds in the US no longer grow fleece because the farmer wants to concentrate on a meat market. They’re called hair sheep. Small amounts of wool grow but shed off on their own, leaving hair on the hides. In the US, we don’t wear as much wool clothing as we did in the 1700s and 1800s. Our founders raised sheep because woolens were in demand for warmth and military uniforms. The price for wool was high back then because it was needed in society.”
“If there’s wool in the cloth, I run the other way. It’s too scratchy for me,” Bill says.
“Mills have an answer to that. It’s called worsted wool. It’s stronger, finer, and smoother than regular wool that’s rough and scratchy. Men’s and women’s suits are usually made with worsted wool because it has a softer feel. Your short lesson on wool for today.” I laugh softly. “New Zealand sheep stations take the all-of-the-above approach. Stations employ sheep shearers and rouseabouts, sell the wool, and raise lambs for meat. Much of that is exported around the world.” I change the subject. “Are you okay with going to the police station first? If you think it’s better that we go in together, I can put off the station visit until this afternoon.”
I have a guilty conscience about sending Bill Drake to the wolves once he takes me to the station.
“It’s best that I test the water with the police. See Ethan and meet his family.”
about the author
Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living and Sheep Industry News, to name a few.
Her catalog Ewephoric began in 1985 out of her desire to locate personalized sheep stationery. She rarely found sheep products through catalogs and set out to design them herself. Ewephoric gifts may be ordered online or request a catalog at TexasSheep.com.
Marlene and her husband, Gregg reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named, Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo and Squeaks, the cats that believe they rule the household—and do.