Monday, May 25, 2015

FARMED AND DANGEROUS, Edith Maxwell: Third "Local Foods Mystery"

Packing and stacking: that's the way to enter summer. Packing a beach bag with books you've waited for months to have time to open ... and stacking more of them next to the deck chair, hammock, or (fan above it, of course) summery lounging spot inside, for those buggy or rainy moments best endured with iced tea and a good mystery.

FARMED AND DANGEROUS could go into the bag or onto the stack -- but since it's being released May 26 as a hardcover (yay, Kensington Books!), I suggest the stack. Then put the two earlier titles in Edith Maxwell's Massachusetts adventure series into the beach bag, as a compromise. You can catch up on 'Til Dirt Do Us Part and A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die in between plunges into the water, right?

But it's not necessary -- or even important -- to read these in order. Market garden farmer Cameron Flaherty took over her farm recently from her great-uncle, Albert St. Pierre. She's built up steady clients in spite of the crimes that have struck her acreage (ah, these "amateur sleuths" always have a problem justifying the way murder seems to follow them around!). And the customers for her year-round veggie subscription, in the mode called CSA (community-supported agriculture), have also become friends, sometimes assistants, and most importantly her advisors on what to grow and sell. As this third book opens, Cam's hoping she can enlist the assisted living home where her great-uncle now lives, to purchase her produce on a regular basis. And because it's "New England spring" -- the kind where snow keeps coming back at you -- she's resorting to padding out her CSA baskets for customers with other locally grown and harvested treats, like heritage apple varieties and cheeses.

Maxwell's made a clever choice in bringing along, from the earlier two books, some startling characters. One of them, the very unfriendly Bev Montgomery, is a recent addition to Great-Uncle Albert's assisted living home at Moran Manor. And Bev is still accusing Cam of stealing chickens, and more. "I'm going to kill that woman," one of the staff aides declares, and Cam knows just what he means.

Still, it's a shock when actual death stalks the halls of the assisted living facility. Did it arrive because Cam's spending time here? What's the threat level to her great-uncle ... and is it her fault? What if something were to happen to trap her within the residence with the seniors and, most likely, a killer? Cam already knows enough to be scared. Very scared.

Maxwell proves again that a "cozy mystery" with an amateur sleuth can have edge and taut suspense, and a highly believable set of plot twists (although up here in Vermont, we're less likely to allow a snowstorm to keep us in one place, hmm?). Deft touches of potential romance and stress between the local police investigator and the hard-working farmer add to the fun of the book, and make it an even better "beach read." Cam urges her boyfriend to let her help solve the case:
"Tell me what you found at Moran." Cam reached a hand across the table to him. When he kept his arms folded, she pulled hers back, stung.

"She was murdered," he said.

"That's awful. How?"

The expression on his face changed from fatigue to steel. "I'm afraid you've become a person of interest."
And that, of course, nails it -- now Cam's got to step in and solve this crime, if only to prove that her boyfriend has the wrong direction in his sleuthing. Not to mention protecting Great-Uncle Albert. And oh yes, to keep her local farm in business!

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