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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Book Notes: Murder down on the farm

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  • “’Til Dirt Do Us Part” By Edith Maxwell. Kensington Books, New York, 2014. 303 pages. $24.
    I want to recommend Massachusetts author Edith Maxwell’s newest and thoroughly entertaining cozy mystery, but only with this caveat: Don’t read “’Til Dirt Do Us Part” if you are hungry. Maxwell has a way of writing about good food that tempts even the most resolute Weight Watcher. Fortunately there are a couple of yummy, vegetable-centric recipes in the back of the book that will more than satisfy. I see an entire book of mystery-inspired recipes in Maxwell’s future — or is that just wishful thinking?
    Maxwell, once an organic farmer herself, has set her Local Foods Mystery, as the series is called, on an organic farm run by the likable, enterprising Cameron Flaherty. Readers of this series are beginning to realize that murders on farms can be grisly affairs. Malnourished pigs factor into this plot, but that doesn’t stop Cam from broiling a couple of tasty local pork chops as she mulls murder.
    Fall harvesting is in full swing when rich, cranky Irene Burr is found dead in neighboring farmer Howard Fisher’s pigsty. Cam, the protagonist with enough zesty appeal to spice up any cozy, is only tangentially affected. The key person of interest, Bobby Burr (Irene’s stepson), rebuilt Cam’s barn after a recent fire in record time — allowing her to continue farming, selling at greenmarkets and distributing produce baskets to subscribers. As the shortening days pass, Cam’s involvement deepens. A threatening note is discovered on her property and her beloved cat goes missing. Burr shows up at her house late at night and in a panic, and just as quickly disappears into the woods. He swears his innocence. Cam has no choice but to defy local authorities and investigate on her own.
    Cam realizes she is not safe from Irene’s murderer. On the way back from a farmers market she discovers that her truck’s brakes don’t work and she crashes into a muddy marsh, causing a serious concussion. Later she receives another head bashing as she is thrown into the same funky pigsty that entrapped poor Irene.
    This is a nicely plotted tale, full of likely suspects and plausible red herrings. We have reasons to like and mistrust most of the characters. Even the new love interest, Detective Pappas, shows up uncharacteristically rumpled and disheveled, giving us pause. And the other hot love interest, the gorgeous chef, Jake Ericsson, inspires increasing ambivalence as his temper flares with greater frequency. Readers may wonder why Cam doesn’t dump the guy before things get out of hand.
    Other highlights in this series are Cam’s energetic, fully realized friends and volunteers that support her efforts on her northeastern Massachusetts organic farm. This group of animal lovers and impassioned locavores includes a teenaged Girl Scout, a Brazilian librarian and a rather brazen pot farmer. The hard work and cold beers afterward lead to many heartwarming moments among good friends — scenes not easily produced by writers with lesser skills.
    Page 2 of 2 - In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to add that many of the books I review are written by authors I know. This situation is inevitable given my lifelong involvement in the literary arts. My rule of thumb is to be honest and gently critical of the books I do choose to review. I try not to review books I don’t enjoy.
    ——
    Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in some bookstores. Write her at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Read her blog at /www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.

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