Winter is peeking around the corner in most parts of the nation but here in sunny Florida, fall is just another growing season. We’ve already produced quite a few lemons from our tree and I’m ready to start digging in the dirt again to see if we can grow more tomatoes and peppers for my husband’s yummy salsa. Cozy mysteries about organic planting and farms always appeal to me when I’m planting (or even thinking about planting) as they offer me tips, encouragement, and an entertaining mystery in the process, particularly long-running series that make me feel like I’m sitting down with old friends for a cup of tea.
One of the first cozy mysteries I remember reading that featured gardening was THYME OF DEATH by Susan Wittig Albert. Long before going healthy and organic was popular and you could find a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s in almost every major city, the heroine, China Bayles, appeared on the scene as a high-powered attorney who left her job to open an herb shop. China has her own garden next to her store, Thyme and Seasons Herb Company, and it’s a place I’ve enjoyed visiting off and on over the years since the series first debuted back in the early 1990s. One of the things I’ve grown to love about the series is the tidbits on herbal uses that Susan Wittig Albert provides us in her books. In THE LAST CHANCE OLIVE RANCH, most of the chapters start with a quick fact on olive oil while DEATH COME QUICKLY shows us ways both herbs and flowers can be used, both for food and medicinal purposes. Twenty-five years later, Susan Wittig Albert has her twenty-sixth book in the China Bayles series, QUEEN ANNE’S LACE coming out. This series will always be one of my favorites as it kindled my love for both cozy mysteries and gardening.
A present day ghost leads China Bayles to a secret from Pecan Springs’s past in this haunting mystery from New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert.
While helping Ruby Wilcox clean up the loft above their shops, China comes upon a box of antique handcrafted lace and old photographs. Following the discovery, she hears a woman humming an old Scottish ballad and smells the delicate scent of lavender….
Soon, strange happenings start to occur in Thyme and Seasons: misplaced items, a ringing bell, and the appearance of lavender sprigs in odd places. When a customer mentions seeing a mysterious woman picking flowers nearby and then suddenly disappearing, China must finally admit what Ruby has always known–their building is haunted. But by whom?
As China investigates, the tragic story of a woman in one of the old photographs unfolds. Annie Laurie was a young widow who’d lost both her husband and her child in the same day. She manages to survive through her lace-making business and finds happiness again only to have a suspicious death overshadow her new life.
China delves into Annie’s century-old mystery and realizes that solving it could have unimaginable repercussions in the here and now.
Later, I discovered Edith Maxwell and her wonderful Local Foods Mystery series and my eyes were opened to the wonders of organic farming and co-ops. Cam Flaherty’s successes and struggles as an organic farmer are intriguing, especially all the work that goes into running and maintaining a CSA (community supported agriculture) from what she grows on her farm. A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE first introduces us to Cam and the various people who are part of her CSA. As the series progresses, we see the various seasons, from the snow in FARMED AND DANGEROUS to warmer days in MURDER MOST FOWL. One of the things I particularly like about the Local Foods Mystery series is that Edith Maxwell injects social issues that impact the farming world, such as the animal rights issues that are part of MURDER MOST FOWL. Her most recent book, MULCH ADO ABOUT MURDER, digs into the world of hydroponics, something that has fascinated me since I was a young kid and was first exposed to the concept at Disney’s Epcot World.
It’s been a hot, dry spring in Westbury, Massachusetts. As organic farmer Cam Flaherty waits for much-needed rain, storm clouds of mystery begin to gather. Once again, it’s time to put away her sun hat and put on her sleuthing cap . . .
May has been anything but merry for Cam so far. Her parents have arrived unexpectedly and her crops are in danger of withering away. But all of that’s nothing compared to the grim fate that lies in store for one of her neighbors. Nicole Kingsbury is the proud owner of the town’s new hydroponic greenhouse. She claims the process will be 100% organic, but she uses chemicals to feed her crops. To Cam’s surprise, her mother embarrasses her by organizing a series of loud public protests against Nicole’s operation.
When Nicole is found dead in a vat of hydroponic slurry—clutching another set of rosary beads—Detective Pete Pappas has a new murder to solve. Showers may be scarce this spring, but there’s no shortage of suspects, including the dead woman’s embittered ex‑husband, the Other Man whose affair ruined their marriage, and Cam’s own mother. Lucky for Cam, her father turns out to have a knack for sleuthing—not to mention dealing with chickens. Will he and Cam be able to clear Mrs. Flaherty’s name before the killer strikes again?
Mystery Cozy [Kensington, On Sale: May 30, 2017, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781496700292 / eISBN: 9781496700308]
A more recent author I’ve discovered who focuses her cozy mysteries around the farming world is Wendy Tyson. Her series, Greenhouse Mystery, is only three books long but has earned a place in my favorites already. The heroine, Megan Sawyer, is an environmental lawyer who has returned to her roots to help run her family’s organic farm and café. Wendy Tyson shows us another side of the farming business as we see Megan tussle with zoning permits in A MUDDIED MURDER and sneaky competitors in BITTER HARVEST. SEEDS OF REVENGE gives us a peek at the struggle of maintaining a livelihood during the winter months. While I have no desire to ever expand into the farming business, I’m pulled into Wendy Tyson’s world where I can dream of eating only the foods I grow myself.
It’s the holiday season, and the mood in Winsome is anything but jolly…Megan Sawyer is determined to farm year-round. She’s braving a December snowstorm after pitching her greenhouse greens to Philadelphia chefs when she sees a stranger stranded on the side of the road. It’s Merry Chance’s niece Becca, who’s headed to Winsome to sell her “love potions” at holiday events—or so she thinks.
Merry has an ulterior motive in inviting her niece to Winsome, but Merry’s plan to reunite Becca with her estranged father goes awry when Becca’s father turns up dead. Megan soon realizes that Becca was not the only person in Winsome who despised her father. When Megan’s aunt, the famous mystery author, is implicated through her novels, things become personal. Megan must follow the literary clues while sifting through the victim’s sordid past, but can she uncover the truth before someone else in Winsome is murdered?
Leslie Budewitz‘s books don’t feature gardening specifically, but her series, Food Lovers’ Village Mystery series whets my appetite for homegrown food fresh from the garden with each installment and thus deserve an honorable mention. Erin Murphy is taking over her family’s long-time business and remaking it as a specialty food market. I love some of the discussions between Erin and her mom about the differences in highly processed foods versus sustainable, non-chemically treated foods in DEATH AL DENTE.
The town of Jewel Bay, Montana—known as a Food Lovers’ Village—is obsessed with homegrown and homemade Montana fare. So when Erin Murphy takes over her family’s century–old general store, she turns it into a boutique market filled with local delicacies. But Erin’s freshly booming business might go rotten when a former employee turns up dead?
Murphy’s Mercantile, known as the Merc, has been a staple in Jewel Bay for over a hundred years. To celebrate their recent makeover as a gourmet food market, Erin has organized a town festival, Festa di Pasta, featuring the culinary goods of Jewel Bay’s finest—including her mother Fresca’s delicious Italian specialties.
But Erin’s sweet success is soured when the shop’s former manager, Claudette, is found dead behind the Merc on the Festa’s opening night. With rival chef James Angelo stirring up rumors that Fresca’s sauce recipes were stolen from Claudette, Erin’s mother is under close scrutiny. Now Erin will have to hunt down some new suspects, or both her family and her store might wind up in hot water?
INCLUDES FRESH, DELICIOUS RECIPES!
Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: August 6, 2013, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780425259542 / eISBN: 9781101624708]
I’m constantly on the lookout for more books to motivate me to increase my gardening skills. WHO MOVED MY GOAT CHEESE? by Lynn Cahoon won’t be out till March 2018 but it’s already on my wish list as it’s first in her Farm-to-Fork Mystery series and the description alone intrigues me. What are some of your favorite cozy mystery series featuring organic food, gardening, or farming?
Angie Turner hopes her new farm-to-table restaurant can be a fresh start in her old hometown in rural Idaho. But when a goat dairy farmer is murdered, Angie must turn the tables on a bleating black sheep . . .
With three weeks until opening night for their restaurant, the County Seat, Angie and her best friend and business partner Felicia are scrambling to line up local vendors—from the farmer’s market to the goat dairy farm of Old Man Moss. Fortunately, the cantankerous Moss takes a shine to Angie, as does his kid goat Precious. So when Angie hears the bloodcurdling news of foul play at the dairy farm, she jumps in to mind the man’s livestock and help solve the murder. One thing’s for sure, there’s no whey Angie’s going to let some killer get her goat . . .
Mystery Cozy [Lyrical Press Underground, On Sale: March 6, 2018, e-Book, ISBN: 9781516103812 / eISBN: 9781516103812]