Catastrophe hits a Vermont apple orchard: a plague of maggots, a spray of RoundUp, hate calls from a local cult, poisoned fruit that kills a Jamaican picker, and a young girl in a risky relationship. Dairy farmer Ruth Willmarth rushes to help--only to watch the troubles pile up on her own doorstep! "Wright doesn't put a foot wrong in this well-wrought mystery." (The Boston Globe) Mystery by Nancy Means Wright; originally published by St. Martins Minotaur
Buying a Vermont apple orchard to get a fresh start after the tragic death of their only child, Stan and Moira Earthrowl settle into learning about the business and beauty of apples in this poignant mystery. Before long, it becomes clear that someone is trying to sabotage their livelihood. Misused weed killers, apple maggots and webworms hamper the couple's apple pickers as they bring in the harvest. When an old Jamaican picker dies from eating a poisoned apple, Moira calls for help from her neighbor, Ruth Willmarth, the stalwart detective/farmer last seen in Harvest of Bones. Then Stan ends up accused of murder and suffers a stroke, after trying to defend Aaron Samuels, a local high school teacher, against a sexual harassment charge. Religious fanatics go after Samuels and the Earthrowls relentlessly. And the couple's sullen niece, Opal, causes endless discontent among the orchard population. Even the young love blooming between Ruth's daughter, Emily, and one of the pickers is troubled: Ruth thinks the boy's too old for Emily. As land developers circle like vultures, Ruth worries that her ex-husband, Pete, wants the Earthrowls' orchard--and her dairy farm. After a slow start, this novel has a lot going on, perhaps too much: the several subplots distract from the central thread. In addition, the saboteur/murderer becomes apparent too soon. However, Wright does create nicely balanced characters. She shares a smattering of interesting apple facts and supplies an unsentimental but affectionate look at farming in general.