Sheila Connolly's Orchard Mysteries are some
of the most satisfying cozy mysteries I've read. With her first one, One Bad Apple, I said it was, "An example of everything that is right with the cozy mystery." Connolly continues to educate, charm and intrigue the reader, all at the same time, with her new book, Rotten to the Core.
After a rough start, Meg Corey is starting to settle in to her farm property in Granford, Massachusetts. And, the start of spring is the perfect time to get to know her apple orchard better. She's taking a class in orchard management, the better to tend the fifteen acres of trees, an orchard over two hundred years old. She's hired a student to work as orchard manager, and she's working with a professor at the university. It wasn't in Meg's plans to find a body in the springhouse in the middle of the orchard.
Meg didn't even know the dead man, identified as a student, Jason Miller. The young man was the front man for GreenGrow, a group of organic farming zealots. But, since he died of pesticide poisoning in her orchard, Meg's a natural suspect for the state police detective who doesn't like her anyways. It's a good thing she's made some friends in Granford, people who believe in her innocence.
There's quite a contrast between Meg and Jason. Meg even says, "Almost nobody seems to have liked Jason much, and everyone I've talked to seems relieved that he's out of the way." However, in the short time she's lived there, Meg made friends with Seth Chapin, a local selectman and plumber who is renting part of her barn, his sister, Rachel, the professor, and even the local police chief. Even so, Meg and Jason have her property in common. Why would anyone want to drag Meg into Jason's murder? It's a shame the death of a man she never even knew causes Meg to suspect her friends.
I always find cozy mysteries more satisfying when the main character is reasonable, and calls the cops, rather than taking matters into their own hands. Meg Corey might be ignorant of the reasons behind the murder, but she's not stupid. She understands it was murder, and she does call the police when she's in danger.
Cozy mysteries seem to have a specialization, whether it's a bookstore mystery, a pizzeria mystery, or, in this case, a mystery set on land with an orchard. Connolly allows the reader to learn about renovating the old farm house, and tending the orchard, right along with Meg, but she never forgets this is supposed to be an enjoyable mystery, not a lesson in country living.
And, one final plug for Mary Ann Lasher's gorgeous cover illustration. If you see this book on a shelf, it will reach out and grab you. Lasher's cover will catch your attention, and Sheila Connolly's Rotten to the Core will keep it. Granted, it's easy to pinpoint the killer, but for most of us who read cozies, the puzzle is only part of the reason we read them. This is a mystery for those of us who enjoy getting to know the characters, watching their lives change, and relationships develop. Rotten to the Core is warm and entertaining from the first paragraph to the last. Fans will look forward to the next Orchard Mystery.
Sheila Connolly's website is www.sheilaconnolly.com
Rotten to the Core by Sheila Connolly. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2009. ISBN 9780425228760 (paperback), 304p.
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