A Late Frost by Sheila Connolly

A Late Frost is from Sheila Connolly’s Orchard Mysteries Series.  It’s what I call a “sipping” cozy.  It’s subtle, yet totally engaging with a solid mystery quietly unfolding in small-town America, Granford, Massachusetts.  It’s a wonderful cozy to enjoy, particularly during the chilly weather, while “sipping” on a cup of coffee – or in this case, more appropriately, hot apple cider.

This series entry finds recently married Meg and Seth Chapin back from their honeymoon, trying to settle back down into their careers and married life.  Two years ago, single Meg had inherited an apple orchard – and the house that came with it.  With the intention of getting the land and house fixed up to sell, she finds herself falling in love not just with the easy going Granford lifestyle, but also the house and apple orchard.

As they say, twice makes thrice.  In addition to falling in love with the town and the land, she hires her neighbor/plumber, Seth, to do some repairs.  Next thing you know, it’s a “love thing,” leading them down the road of holy matrimony.

Now they’re combining their expertise and skills.  Meg is running her orchard and Seth is not only still the local plumber, but he also does building renovations.  When Meg hires a wayward young man, Larry, to be the new orchard manager, Seth even draws up the plans to revamp the old chicken coop, converting it into a tiny house for Larry to live on-site.  It’s a win-win for all of them.

It is winter in Granford and the quiet, little town has its own PR dynamo – Monica Whitman.  She’s launched her WinterFare ideas to the town’s counsel – a surefire way to bring in some tourists, as well as the locals.  This means publicity for the town’s businesses as well as providing them with a boost of cash during their off-season.  Done — it’s a no-brainer.

WinterFare is a huge success – everyone is simply thrilled at the turnout and it’s also a chance for townsfolk to get to know one another.  But not too long after the festival winds down, a few residents start to get sick.  Then, someone dies.   Was it food poisoning?

It takes a while for local authorities to figure out if this was an accidental death or something else.  When the “something else” becomes murder or possibly suicide, things get interesting.  I “sipped” my way through several cups of coffee, intrigued by fact that even I couldn’t decide which path this mystery was taking.

Meg and Seth find themselves stuck in the middle – they too, were food vendors at the WinterFare.  Art, the local police chief has his hands full and when the death leans towards cold-blooded murder, Detective Marcus of the State Police is brought in.   Marcus is colder than an Arctic blast of air as he shamelessly grills Meg and Seth.  He even has their new manager, Larry, on his radar screen.  Uh-oh, trouble in Paradise.

I loved the setting and interaction of the characters in this cozy mystery.  Sheila’s portrayal of the newlywed couple and the residents of Granford are authentic and delightful.  Sadly, Sheila Connolly passed away early last year, but she leaves behind a treasure trove of wonderful mysteries.

Her series include:   The Orchard Mystery Series, The Victorian Village Mysteries, The Relatively Dead Series and the Museum Mysteries.  Check them out – these will keep you reading for months on end, great mysteries from a New York Times Bestselling author.

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