The Delightful “West River Mysteries” by Jolene Stratton Philo

Both Charming Novels Were Published This Year

It is 1977, and 21-year-old amateur sleuth, Jane Newell, plans to seize life and make it her own as soon as she can get her VW Beetle out of the ditch. Having just graduated from a Midwestern college in elementary education, Jane accepted a teaching position in the small rustic town of Little Missouri, South Dakota. However, she’s not the only subject of local gossip. Round the Bend Bar and Café buzzes with talk of a recent tragedy—a hit and run murder that left one of her new students without a mother and the whole community restless for answers.

Jane’s nose for misadventure pulls her into a humorous tale of mystery among the zany characters surrounding her–from neighbor Merle Laird and his prize cow Snippy to the glitter-hating school janitor, Velma. Amidst the scenic wonder of this quirky little corner of western South Dakota, she begins her new life knowing that someone close to her was undoubtedly a killer, and she is determined to find out who it is.

My thoughts: A plucky young teacher, away from home for the first time, helps solve a who-done-it in small town South Dakota. When a fourteen-year-old student is arrested for murder of another student’s mother, Jane Newell’s problem-solving brain works overtime while she shepherds her class through spelling lessons, hatching monarchs, and glitter projects.

With grit, spirit, a great sense of humor and adventure, she also learns to milk a cow and handle a grumpy cleaning lady, all the while pondering clues. The charge against the student is dismissed, and Jane eventually becomes embraced in the arms of this quirky community. There’s a recipe for Nonskid Pancakes at the end!


With three months of teaching and one solved mystery under her belt, Jane Newell is back. In short order her Beetle plows into a snowbank, her most rambunctious student hijacks the country school Christmas program, and she stumbles over the body of a teenage boy. Though Sheriff Rick Sternquist warns her not to investigate, Jane ignores his advice when she discovers a tangle of clues. They suggest that the murderer lives where Jane does – Little Missouri, South Dakota (population 92), in the northwestern corner of the state. With the help of cranky school janitor Velma Albright, switchboard operator Betty Yarborough, and neighbor Merle Laird, Jane closes in on the killer and sings her way into the hearts of the community she now calls home.

My thoughts: Single young teacher Jane Newell prepares her seven students for a Christmas program with the other grade-school teacher in Little Missouri, SD. A whole cast of townspeople look out for Miss Newell, suggesting suitors for her, as she tries to help solve a murder mystery. A boy from a nearby ranch for troubled youth was killed and clues seemed to show up where she would find them. Having been interested in forensics initially, she got herself involved. What predicaments she ended up in, but the perpetrator was arrested, the Christmas program was a success, and Miss Newell heads for Christmas in Iowa with her parents, driving her VW Beetle. A delightful romp, with a recipe at the end.

Author Jolene Stratton Philo

Before I became an author, I taught elementary school for 25 years. 7 of those years were spent in northwestern South Dakota. Our first child was born while we lived there, and our experiences with him resulted in 6 books for the special needs community. My fiction series, West River Mysteries, draws heavily on my years as an Iowan who landed in cowboy country, who taught country school, and who was adopted and cared for by the locals in the tiny town where we lived.

Jolene was recently interviewed on Hello Iowa, WHO-TV 13, about the first two books in her new West River Mysteries series. Other titles in the works: See Jane Dance! and See Jane Dig! 



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.