With the death of her long time friend and male role model, Tavas, looming Anna leaves school and heads back home to the Devil's Gate ranch. Once there she has to face not just her fading friend, but also her childhood crush, Ivan and his textbook nasty wife, while she's still not quite over him. Except that things aren't quite as Anna left them at the Devil's Gate. It's been haunted over the summer by the strange ritualistic killings of the livestock.
After almost revealing a dark family secret Tavas passes, leaving Devil's Gate to Anna. He also leaves her with a mystery to solve, not to mention leaving her to settle her own issue of the heart.
The Devil's Gate mixes many familiar themes; a ranch on the edge of destruction, suspicious and dangerous people afoot, the best friend who loves the girl, the bad boy who never treated her right and many, many secrets that must be discovered before they claim Anna's sanity, or her life.
While it reads similarly to older cozy mysteries, like the Nancy Drew books, and features plenty of events to keep the world expanding and solid writing there's also a slow pace to the story. Anna finds herself undeniably drawn to the dark, broody and married Ivan. Even when best friend-for-life Brad asks for a chance to court her Anna seems to spend all her date time brooding over Ivan. Ivan's wife, Colleen, is pointlessly mean and cruel, but Brad keeps falling for her manipulations, even to the point of letting Colleen force herself into their big date to the fair. No one's to be trusted, of course, especially when Colleen shows up dead and just about everyone is hiding something.
The romance angle is muddled as Ivan is married and potentially dangerous and Brad is unsafely desperate. But in the end the strings come together and the tension skyrockets. The Devil's Gate is more Murder, She Wrote than fast paced car-chase-and-explosions fare. There's no gore or sex, making this a good tale for readers who shy away from horror and erotica. And the western flavor adds a bit of spice that might be missing from romance or cozy suspense diets.