Mira James has left the big city for the small town of Battle Lake, Minnesota. She’s a librarian and a part-time reporter for the local paper, and the newspaper’s offer to put her up in an Airstream for a week at the State Fair sounds like something very close to a paid vacation. She’ll sample the fair food, from Jamaican jerk to Fried Nut Goodies, admire the cows, and of course get the full story on how a Battle Lake girl won the pageant crown to become the 54th Milkfed Mary, Queen of the Dairy.

It sounds like bucolic fun, even when Mira gets some visitors from home: the mayor, to be precise, and an elderly Neil Diamond fan, both highly eccentric old ladies who’ve earned the right to be as odd as they choose. Did we mention the hunk of a rock star who stirs up feelings Mira isn’t sure she wants to have stirred up?

It’s against this background that the murder of Battle Creek’s Dairy Queen Ashley Pederson pops up. Mira is an eyewitness, so of course she has to cover it for her paper, along with all the excitement of a Midwestern state fair. Along the way, she finds herself at odds with Big Dairy, animal rights protesters, pageant princesses and their handlers, and bureaucrats who have something to hide.

Mira is sympathetic and complex, her supporting cast is quirky and lovable, and Loury has done her homework. If you don’t know much about butter sculpture before you start reading, you’ll know plenty when you finish. The colorful details and the serious issues of modern farm methods and their effects on farmers and consumers don’t detract from the story — they deepen it. The book is well written light reading for fans of a witty mystery.

September Fair is part of the Murder-by-Month series that began with May Day.

Read an excerpt and find discussion questions (they’re also in the book, including the Kindle version) at Loury’s website, Jessloury.com.