PLANTATION SHUDDERS is a pretty stringent adherent to the current formula for cosy mysteries. However Ellen Byron has put enough of a unique spin on the familiar to make the book interesting but not so much of one that the quirks make me clench my jaw after a few chapters. This is a sub genre that often goes overboard with gimmicks or scenarios that are completely implausible but Byron has avoided those while still having the kind of colour and humour that make for good reading.
Such books these days seem always to have a young-ish heroine recently returned to the small town in which she was born after a stint in a big city during which her career and/or love life (or both) went horribly awry. Here that role is filled by Maggie Crozat who has come home to Pelican, Louisiana where several generations of her family run their decades-old plantation as a bed-and-breakfast establishment. Maggie’s New York art gallery and boyfriend are now both in the possession of another woman and she is starting to rebuild her life. Although a bit battered by her recent life experiences Maggie is getting on with living without overdosing on angst. In between stumbling across opportunities for amateur sleuthing she helps with the family business, works as a guide at a neighbouring plantation and makes quirky souvenirs to sell.
In this first instalment of the series one of the latest batch of guests at the Crozat B&B is murdered and the family’s business is put under pressure due to the investigation. Not only is it bad form for someone to be poisoned in a hospitality business but the town’s Sheriff is a ‘good ol’ boy‘ and a member of the family which has been feuding with the Crozats for longer than anyone can remember. He relishes any chance he can find to make life difficult for the Crozats.
But they are made of pretty stern stuff and display a healthy mix of Southern charm and modern realism. I particularly enjoyed that Maggie’s grandmother is the business’ internet and social media queen, showing that ‘old dogs’ can and do embrace new tricks. Between the guests and the family members there is a decent suspect pool for the story to work its way through and this is done in an engaging and largely plausible way.
Maggie’s love-interest is Bo Durand, the town’s newest police detective which regular cosy readers will recognise as another common component of the formula. Although he is the a Sheriff’s cousin he is a lot more enlightened and not keen to perpetuate the family feud in the same way as his boss. Although it will undoubtedly have its ups and downs should the series continue, it seems like the pair’s relationship will not be one of those never ending ‘will they/won’t they get together’ ones which is a plus for me as I am really fed up with that particular trope.
I selected this book for the Louisiana leg of my very slow tour of America via its crime fiction and it definitely offered a good sense of its location. This includes providing a welcome idea of the geography of the town and its relation to the rest of the state along with the local food, sayings and historical oddities that mark a place out from the rest of the world.
As a born and bred city girl I have grown a little weary of the underlying message this formula seems to be sending but I’m not always up for the violence and grittiness that pervades the other end of the crime fiction spectrum either. So while on the lookout for a cosy heroine who can survive in the big city I’ll happily read more like this one. I enjoyed the narration by new-to-me voice artist Meredith Mitchell for the audio book though I do have to hope that her southern American accents were closer to the mark than the Australian one she used for the guest family from my home country.
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This is the 18th book I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge in which I’m aiming to read a total of 51 books, one set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.
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Narrator Meredith Mitchell
Publisher Blackstone Audio, 2015
Length 7 hours 29 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Cajun Country series
Source of review copy I bought it