MYSTERY AT WINDSWEPT FARM
(Rosalie Hart Book #3)
In Wendy Sand Eckel’s much-anticipated third book in the Rosalie Hart Mystery Series, Rosalie’s hard-earned organic farm certification is threatened by a toxic neighbor who is about to crop dust his winter wheat. When their impulsive farm hand decides to confront him, she finds his lifeless body inside the door of his home on Windswept Farm.
In the midst of the mayhem, Rosalie’s beloved Day Lily Café hosts a 5-day cooking school. Marco Giovanelli, a celebrated Italian chef, arrives in Cardigan and a sumptuous situation ensues.
When one of the students falls ill with the same poison that killed the farmer, Rosalie and her best friend and head waiter, Glenn, take matters, and homemade pasta dough, into their own hands.
With Mystery at Windswept Farm, Eckel once again brings the fictional town of Cardigan, Maryland to life and delights with suspense, humour, and mouth-watering menus.
WENDY SAND ECKEL
Degrees in criminology and social work, followed by years of clinical practice, helped Wendy Sand Eckel explore her fascination with how relationships impact motivation, desire, and inhibition.
Combined with her passion for words and meaning, writing mystery is a dream realized.
Wendy is the award-winning author of the Rosalie Hart Mystery Series. Book #2 Death at the Day Lily Café was selected “Best Cozy of 2016” by Suspense Magazine. She is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America and the International Association of Crime Writers.
Wendy lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in her dream house where she alternately gazes out her windows at the Chester River and hovers over the stove, creating succulent, sometimes experimental, meals for family and friends. She lives with the love of her life and two rescued orange tabbies.
“The kitchen glowed in the early morning light as I fired up my adored coffee maker, Mr. Miele, and watched as he hissed out a cup of Columbian roast. Although he was showing his age, Mr. Miele had been my first and only improvement when i moved into this drafty, old farm house. I liked to think those initial espressos helped restore my will to carry on, and, not long after, bring Barclay Meadow back to life”
“My shoulders relaxed. Why did I immediately go to feeling insecure? Why did I assume he would eventually stop loving me? It never ceased to amaze me how my divorce created so much self doubt. I thought I had gotten past it, but testing the waters with Tyler was stirring up all kinds of crazy feelings”
“But the best nights were when we reserved a block of time, just for us. Weather permitting, we’d sit out by the river, narrowing our world to only the two of us, no one to save, no one to feed, no one to conquer, just languishing in our good fortune to have found one another”
“She said kisses should be lovely. If they are forced or messy, you should find another boyfriend”
“You aren’t the first one. But folks like you, they start a business, put out a shingle, think they are going to change things. But then they get bored. The small town gets to them and they pack it all up and go back to where they came from. So you may want to dig in here, be a part of things, but it’s hard for folks here to trust you’ll see it through”
“Why apologize? Emotions are what they are. And they exist for a reason. It’s what you do with them that matters. Most importantly, don’t let them take over. They are just one part of you”
“There is craziness everywhere. It’s random. Not in our control”
When Meryl Moss Media group offered me a complimentary copy of this new cozy mystery, in exchange for a review, I was in two minds about accepting their kind invitation, as I found myself jumping into the series with book #3, knowing none of the backstory and nothing about the characters. I need not have worried however, as author Wendy Sand Eckel did an amazing job at filling in any gaps succinctly, without causing a non-series reader to feel they have missed out on something vital. In practically no time at all, I felt comfortable and right at home, with Rosalie and her friends, especially when someone mentioned Italian food, which I adore.
It seems as though Rosalie has been a thorn in the side of Sheriff Joe Wilgus, almost from the day she arrived in the small town of Cardigan, Devon County, Maryland, as she appears to have the knack of besting him in many of his major investigations, much to his chagrin. So let’s see how they are getting along these days and if relations might be about to thaw a little…
Rosalie inherited Barclay Meadow Farm from her Aunt Charlotte some time go. However it is only recently, following the breakdown of her twenty year marriage and having seen her daughter Annie safely off to university, she decided to kick the city dust of DC from her heels and make a fresh start in her own little quiet corner of paradise. At least that was the plan… Hitherto, the farm had been leased by her neighbour Tyler Wells and had been more than ably managed by him, with the help of Bini Katz.
Being very like-minded, the three of them decide to register Barclay Meadow as a sustainable venture and they are in the final stages of achieving certification when their crochety neighbour Ronnie Kline, who owns Windswept Farm, decides to spray his fields with a particularly noxious chemical which is sure to leach into Barclay Meadow land, scotching any hope of Rosalie attaining sustainability status. When Bini decides to take matters into her own hands and sets off to appeal to Ronnie’s better nature, she finds Windswept deserted and Ronnie’s body led in the hallway of the farmhouse. Murder is soon established and the cause of death would not have been pleasant. Rosalie once again finds herself locking horns with Sheriff Joe Wilgus, as in his usual inimitably laid back style, he is looking to solve the case in the fastest time possible and with the minimum amount of fuss and inconvenience to himself. The tension is ramped up a notch when Ronnie’s family turn up, only to find he has made some strange and not very palatable decisions in his will, which sets his nephew and nieces at each others throats.
With her brother Oliver’s financial help, Rosalie is also the owner of the Day Lily Cafe, which she has just finished renovating, along with her septuagenarian head waiter and fellow amateur sleuth, Glenn Breckinridge. Knowing how much Rosalie would like to expand her culinary skills, fellow businesswoman Alessi, arranges for her visiting Italian celebrity chef cousin, Marco Giovanelli, to hold a week long cookery school, if Rosalie can find five other people to join her. Things are going well, although Marco is becoming more than a little smitten with Rosalie, a feeling which is not reciprocated and which Rosalie knows she will need to deal with sooner rather than later, until fellow cookery class participant and local businessman Kevin, almost meets his end by the same foul means as Ronnie Kline, only this time it happens inside the cafe and appears to be a case of mistaken identity, but who was the intended victim?
A distressed Oliver arrives, seeking solace and comfort from Rosalie. A visiting Russian reality TV star, Sonja, also adds some unforeseen glamour to events, until her real reason for picking sleepy Cardigan for a break come to light and Windswept Farm is once more the centre of unwanted police attention. Does Sonja’s arrival also have anything to do with the Russian Secret Service men seen coming and going from a rented house in the town, where among their regular visitors are Ronnie Kline’s two thuggish nephews. Lets face it, a cantankerous Ronnie had made so many enemies over the years, that no one really knew what went on in his life, or on his property.
Add to the mix, the tentatively growing romantic relationship between Rosalie and Tyler and it’s easy to see how Marco’s Italian recipes for love might become a little toxic. You’ll need to read this one for yourself to find out if there are any happy endings and if there is any sign of a warming in the cold relationship between Rosalie and Sheriff Wilgus!
This multi-layered, nicely textured cozy mystery storyline, narrated almost completely by Rosalie herself, is broken down into bite-sized chapters, which keeps the pace of the story moving along nicely, in an ever-evolving and changing situation, where there was never a dull moment. Just as well in a scenario where, amongst a veritable shopping list of suspects and a laundry list of crimes, I was never able to spot the real villain of the piece for the many twists and turns and multiple red herrings, perfectly placed and just waiting to trip me up, which they did most soundly. So many threads which were drawn together in a final denouement I hardly noticed, so skilfully did Rosalie manage things.
Some excellent ‘in kitchen’ scenes, only added to the flavour of the storyline, with their delicious ingredients, heady aromas and spontaneous moments which made me smile. Whilst I enjoy eating good food, I have to confess to not being a particularly competent or adventurous cook. However, many of Rosalie’s fellow participants were also complete novices, so I picked up a few good tips from Marco’s lessons, although whether shall ever venture down the road of preparing my own pasta from scratch is anyone’s guess!
Author Wendy Sand Eckel gathered together a large cast of multi-faceted and well defined characters, who made this story very much their own. The time was taken to describe and draw them authentically and in great detail. They were an evolving, complex jigsaw of human emotions, often unreliable, vulnerable and volatile; yet always raw, passionate, genuine and believable in the roles to which they had been cast, which made them totally addictive, if not easy to connect with.
My favourite character was, as you might expect, Rosalie herself. Her enthusiasm to make a success of her business ventures; her determination to win over Sheriff Wilgus, even if it does end up costing her a fortune in lost profits from all the free coffee and cakes he seems to expect; her new and growing deep connection with her brother in his obvious time of need; and her stubborn resilience in not making the same mistake twice and allowing her emotions to be rode over roughshod by Tyler as much as she has feelings for him, even though I am already itching to give the pair of them a good shove in the right direction.
In this story, revenge was definitely a dish best served stone cold and with calculated malintent.
Albeit that Wendy paid great attention to descriptive and detailed qualities, as she painted the physical location of the storyline, it was a shame that the place names, with the exception of the State of Maryland, were fictional. Not knowing the area made it almost impossible for me to second-guess where Cardigan might actually be, which as a confirmed ‘armchair traveller’ was a little frustrating. I can however, envisage this storyline featuring in a television series similar to ‘Murder She Wrote’, as all the ingredients are there… Wendy managed to strike just the right balance between the seriousness of the crimes, the heady first flushes of romance, and the amazing Italian recipes, to keep me entertained and engaged from the very first page, to the final word. Who could ask for a better journey than that!
I decided to mark my review down a little at four stars, simply because of the formatting, spelling and grammatical bloopers, which peppered the text of my Kindle download. Whilst this didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the story in any meaningful way, I do hope the final draft was edited once more before release!
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by Meryl Moss Media Group and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.