Finding a body in the barn, complete with a pitchfork sticking out of its neck, would not be my favorite ‘before dinner’ activity. Organic farmer, Cam Flaherty, in Edith Maxwell’s “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” doesn’t like it either. My grandfather had several barns and not one of them came decorated with a pitchfork sticking out of a body. He had the pitchfork, just not the body. Untidy, to say the least.
Flaherty has taken over the farm from her great-uncle and dreams of getting certified in order to sell organic produce to the locavores (people who eat locally produced food). She is not allowed to use chemicals to fertilize plants or kill bugs and has to follow those practices for several years before being awarded the coveted certificate. Her one employee, Mike Montgomery, doesn’t see the point, is tired of handpicking beetles off the potatoes, and stores decidedly toxic pesticide in the barn. Flaherty fires him for endangering her business – on the opening day of the harvest share. She’s only in year one of the certification process and can’t afford his sloppy work habits or his negative attitude.
Despite Montgomery’s absence, Flaherty has a successful first day with the customers and is hopeful about a good first season – as long as she can get volunteers to assist a few hours a week. But, six hours after she fires him, Montgomery is deader than dead inside the hoop house. Flaherty just might be the chief suspect in his murder, what with opportunity, suspected motive, and the blood on her clothes.
Unhappily, Flaherty discovers that not everyone is overjoyed about her dream. Some of the local farmers don’t want the extra effort of organic, see her as tough competition and may even think that the wrong person wound up with the pitchfork problem.
“A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” provides a peek into the life of a farmer: the dawn to dusk hours, the weeding, the seeding, the pests, the planting, the tilling, the harvesting and more. We get to see the business side of a modern farm, with websites and marketing to contend with in addition to the age-old problem of equipment breaking down just when you need it the most. Maxwell herself ran an organic produce farm for about six years, putting in eight-hour days in order to get the work done. She says she had no animals on the farm to deal with at the time, which allowed her to focus on the crops. I take care of flowers in my 1/3-acre backyard for an hour or so a day and I can’t imagine doing the weeding and pest control no matter what the weather with several acres of produce. It is backbreaking work. Big thank-yous to the farmers of this world!
Maxwell delivers an assortment of quirky characters, supportive friends, and suspects aplenty for the murder as well as later sabotage against the farm. Cam Flaherty’s childhood friend, Ruth Dodge (now a police officer) especially well drawn with marriage and job challenges, stands up satisfactorily for Flaherty when she can, but remains professional when she has to.
The subplots of illegal immigration, a past that still haunts Flaherty, as well as a budding love interest, are interwoven nicely with the stories of tasty meals prepared with produce fresh from the garden. “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” ends as it began, in fine dramatic fashion with Flaherty proving to be a truly appealing lead character. She has foibles like the rest of us, and is able to deal with challenging issues when the situation calls for it.
Edith Maxwell’s comments at ‘Jungle Red Writers’ about being a farmer can be read here:
For more information about Maxwell, as well as her most recently published book featuring Cam Flaherty, “ ’Til Dirt Do Us Part,” please visit www.edithmaxwell.com