by Cynthia Chow
& Meera Lester
This week we have another Halloween related mystery, A Hive of Homicides by Meera Lester, and we also have a Halloween related guest post from Meera. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of A Hive of Homicides, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
A Hive of Homicides: A Henny Penny Farmette Mystery by Meera Lester
Review by Cynthia Chow
Getting stung on the face by one of her bees was the first sign for Abby Mackenzie that Paola Varela and Jake Winston’s vow-renewal ceremony wouldn’t end well. The second sign was actually being leered at and hit upon by the groom. Abby had kept her mouth shut about her reservations concerning her friend’s marriage, but Paola was adamant that Jake had mended his ways and the ceremony was testament to his commitment. Sadly, Jake soon has the opportunity to prove that he will indeed love, honor, and cherish Paola until death. During the vow-renewal party at Jake’s Country Schoolhouse Winery, Abby discovers the couple in their car, where one bullet has gone through to make two victims.
As Paola remains in a coma and Jake goes to the morgue, Abby copes with the guilt over not stepping in to stop the wedding in the first place. When added to her previous tragedies, even her experience as a former police officer doesn’t make Abby immune to the trauma culminating into overwhelming bouts of depression and anxiety. Police Chief Bob Allen has made it aggressively clear that he doesn’t appreciate Abby’s input in his cases, and the new Lieutenant Sinclair welcomes her even less. When Abby’s best friend and former police partner lets her know that they are circling in on Paola’s brother as a suspect, Abby breaks out her own incident board to investigate who was the intended victim, who was the woman who interrupted the church, and what exactly was going on in the winery kitchen.
Even as Abby expands her Henny Penny Farmette and its production of organic honeys, jams, and jellies, she delves into the unexpected fallout of being involved in murder investigations. The uncooperative investigating officers taunt and provoke her while Abby experiences paralyzing flashbacks from past losses. The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday brings together Paola’s family, only increasing the pressure on Abby to find some resolution for them and herself.
This third in the series never shies away from exploring darker issues, yet still entertains with its witty characters and engaging dialogue. Bee and farmette facts continue to be sprinkled throughout, as are critical details of an investigation. A genuinely terrifying and explosive finale surpasses that seen in cozier novels, with the threats feeling all too real. Readers who enjoy the small-town mysteries with a darker edge will be thoroughly entertained by the complex layers of this delightful novel.
Meera Lester on Resilience
My newest novel, A Hive of Homicides, opens in a church parking lot days before Halloween. I chose that holiday for a reason—in the land of my grandmother’s Scots-Irish lineage, the festival in ancient times was known as Samhain and often brought surprises, not always of a good kind, an idea that finds resonance in my novel. All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween was a time of witches and warlocks walking about and souls of the dead roaming until midnight. Even today, some Scots carve lanterns from turnips as they did in the times of the Celts and set out a plate of food and an empty chair just in case a lost soul drops by.
My novel’s protagonist Abigail Mackenzie is an ex-cop with a gentle soul and a sixth sense she inherited from her grandmother Rose. Rose’s bits of wisdom are sprinkled throughout A Hive of Homicides via Abby’s thoughts and recollections, usually during a moment of crisis or confusion or surprise. Like Abby, I lived with my grandparents during a formative period in my life. On my grandparent’s Missouri farm, I developed a lens for looking at nature as intrinsically connected to my being. My maturity brought with it the ability to value my life through that narrative of recollection, a sense of pride for my heritage as a fifth generation farmer. In times of distress, I find peace walking a field, working in my garden, or gazing up into the canopy of trees to watch the birds just as Abby does. And I’ve imbued her character with something I deeply value—resilience.
Fragility and resilience are points on a spectrum that all humans experience at some stage of their lives. In college, I wanted to become a doctor but lacked funds, support, and grades. Disappointed, but determined to help others, I studied to become a respiratory therapist, passing California’s state exam. In my twenties and thirties, I worked in several large metropolitan hospitals. Whether working in an ER, ICU, or emergency room, or transporting patients on an ambulance or helicopter transport as part of a critical care team, or standing in silence with prayer in my heart for someone who had just passed away, the work revealed to me both the fragility and resilience of humanity. Those experiences, too, inform my life and that of Abby and other characters that populate my novels.
Resilience is a beautiful quality possessed by farmers throughout the world. I saw it in my grandparents. During my travels in the world, I witnessed resilience in farmers facing famine in Gujarat (India) and those struggling to survive in Mexico, Europe, and the British Isles. It took a while but I, after a period of feeling fragile, found resilience after my husband died following a heart transplant at age 46. In A Hive of Homicides, Abby also struggles with an unseen enemy. She understands that to conquer this foe will restore her to wholeness and enable her to be resilient in the face of adversity.
Today, on my farmette situated a few miles from the California Delta, I grow heirloom varieties of plants and care for a small orchard of fruit trees. I’ve remarried, and with the help of my second husband, a Caribbean-born architect-designer, I keep chickens and bees and a cat named Sophia. I’ve recreated the gardens of my past, eat the organic foods I grow, and have nature all around me. The ancient Celts from whom my grandmother’s ancestors descended respected the Divine as manifested in nature, the “mother” of us all. She challenges and surprises and not always in a good way. Still, this life of farming connects with some ancient longing within me to live close to the earth, in step with the seasons. Come Halloween this year, I’ll forgo the carving of turnips. Instead, I’ll plate up some treats and fashion some pumpkins into lanterns for any lost souls out roaming around.
To enter to win a copy of A Hive of Homicides, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “hive,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 21, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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