Brought to you by OBS reviewer Daniele
Lindy Blanchard has devoted five years of her life to saving the pecan trees on her family’s farm—but someone is going to deadly lengths to see that she fails…
Riverville, Texas, is pecan country, and the Blanchard family farm is famous for its acres of tall pecan trees and the delicious pies and cookies sold at the Nut House, the aptly named family store. Miss Amelia, Lindy’s feisty grandmother, makes the best pecan pies for several counties and the farm is attracting visitors from far and wide to sample the wares.
Until the day Lindy walks into the greenhouse to find her uncle Amos murdered and her new stock of trees destroyed, with the best of the bunch stolen. Who is out to ruin the Blanchard family? And who wanted Uncle Amos dead? With the sheriff stumped, it’s up to Lindy and Miss Amelia to save the ranch and tree a killer.
A Tough Nut to Kill is the first book in a new cozy mystery series, and a fine debut at that. The Blanchard family have a pecan ranch in a small, south central (not too far from Houston) Texas town. They sell some of their wares at their store in town, The Nut House, which is run by the grandmother, Miss Amelia. She bakes the best pies around and has the blue ribbons to prove it. When the father, Jake, died in an accident a couple of years prior, his wife, Emma, and son, Justin, took over the daily operation of the business. The daughter, Bethany, is in charge of event planning for the ranch’s pavilion. Lindy, the other daughter, is working to cultivate a disease and draught resistant variety of pecan tree (she earned horticulture and bioengineering degrees at Texas A&M University).
One spring day, Lindy arrives at her greenhouse to find her plants destroyed, her research files on fire, the computer missing, and her test trees stolen. But, worst of all, she finds her estranged uncle, Amos, dead on the greenhouse floor. When the police find some incriminating evidence with the body, Justin is taken into custody. To make matters worse, since his father died Justin has made it no secret that he wished his uncle was dead. Feeling that the police are no longer interested in finding the real killer, Lindy and Amelia take it upon themselves to investigate. It also comes to light that some fifty thousand dollars went missing from the pecan growers co-op while Jake was still president. Why had Amos come back to town? Did he trash Lindy’s work? Where could all that missing money be?
Lindy and her grandmother, Amelia, may seem like an odd investigating team, and they are…a bit. They are actually a great deal alike and love and respect each other. Lindy has youth and intelligence (book smarts) on her side, while Amelia has wisdom that comes with age, an ability to read people, and an ear firmly planted in town gossip. I found them entertaining and comical. All of the characters, both the family and town folk, have the potential to be people that I want to get to know. Though they are a little broadly drawn in this introductory effort, I trust they will grow in future installments. They are mild characatures of small town folk, but I recognized many of them from my own life in a small Texas town. I found the neighbors, Chastity and Harry, to be greatly exaggerated stereotypes, but they are “northerners” playing a part, trying to fit into their adopted town. There is a lot of dialogue and not much action in the book, and that dialogue is sometimes wrought with bad grammar and southern slang, but when I was a child (and my hometown was still small), I heard plenty of local old-timers speak in such a fashion. I did not find it to be overblown…maybe that’s the Texan in me shining through.
The story unfolds rather slowly, but the pace is good. Instead of chasing after suspect after suspect, the protagonists really gather information, like puzzle pieces that they then fit together, to solve the mysteries. The glimpse into pecan farming, which I assume is accurate since I know nothing about it, was interesting and a different setting for a cozy. Like many other series out there, there is a lot of talk about food and recipes featured in the back. A minor complaint is the inconsistency in the family sometimes calling the grandmother Miss Amelia and other times Memaw. “Miss” grated on my nerves a bit, only because I did not grow up calling ladies Miss <first name>. It was considered a little disrespectful and condescending in my house, but I know that is not the norm.
I enjoyed this cozy and look forward to the next installment. If you do not enjoy southern or Texas based characters, this may not be one for you (see comment about slang and grammar above), but I recommend it to readers who enjoy a more mature sleuth and quirky characters.
Now, I think I need to rustle up a piece of pecan pie…or a turtle…or candied pecans…you get the picture.