Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bite into a Locavore Mystery: Edith Maxwell, A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE

Think quickly, which of your gardening implements could make a murder weapon? Yep, that one, too ... Edith Maxwell, no stranger to shopping at farmers markets and caring for organic veggie plots, picked the vicious multi-tined pitchfork (think American Gothic, but stronger), for her first "Local Foods Mystery," A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE.

Cam Flaherty is a new farmer -- her great-uncle Albert St. Pierre has turned over the operation to her, and she's hoping the cachet of organic, fresh, and local will help her make a good living from her new country life, quite a change from Cambridge, Mass. But it's always the people that complicate life, right? And the whole point of a CSA -- that is, community-supported agriculture, or farm shares -- is people being regular purchasers of everything you grow. Among Cam's group of purchasers is Alexandra, "a Viking princess. If princesses wore cutoff overalls and hiking boots with red socks." And there's Felicity, whose long gray braid hangs down her back; the also gray-haired Wes, the silent type; and perhaps most importantly, Brazilian immigrant Lucinda DaSilva, president of the Westbury Locavore Club but otherwise mysterious and not exactly the sharing type.

But Cam's plans for orderly operations are brought swiftly to catastrophe when the hired man she's just fired (for almost destroying her organic operation!) turns up dead in a greenhouse structure, lying bloodily between the trays of seedlings.

Even worse (can there be worse?), someone else is sabotaging the gardens, even with Mike already dead. And the eye of the Press is on Cam:
The reporter stood ten yards away in Tully's meadow, what passed for her neighbor's quarter-mile-long front yard. Cam doubted if Tully had given the woman permission. She looked uncomfortable standing in weedy grass up to the knees of her expensive-looking black pants. Her cameraperson appeared to be focusing on Cam. How long had they been there? And now the poisoned rhubarb was going to be on television.

"We want to hear your side of the murder in the greenhouse." The drama in the woman's voice could have landed her on Masterpiece Theater. She walked toward Cam, extending a microphone attached to a black shoulder bag.
Maxwell paints the trials and tribulations -- and rewards -- of a small farm in bright detail, based on her own experience as part owner of a certified-organic farm herself years ago. Most important for this cozy-with-dark-edges mystery, she tags the motivations that take Cam Flaherty into investigating the crime, when it would be safe (and easier) to leave the detection to the police. Even in the countryside, the blackest dangers are those provided by criminals who don't care what or who they damage.

Whether Cam can catch the murderer is one pressing question. The other one is, will she still have a working community-focused farm and a group of willing locavores by the time the crime is solved?

This is Maxwell's first detective fiction under her own name, but she also recently started a series under her pen name, Tace Baker. I don't expect she'll have much time for weeding this summer, with two series to write and a lot of twists and turns ahead! I look forward to getting to know Cam Flaherty better as Maxwell's Local Foods Mystery series continues.

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