A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery Series #11)

A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery Series #11)

by Sheila Connolly

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A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery Series #11) by Sheila Connolly

The New York Times bestselling author of Seeds of Deception returns with a story of orchard owner Meg and the search for a poisoner.

The usually quiet town of Granford, Massachusetts, is even drowsier during the colder months. But this year it’s in for a jolt when Monica Whitman moves into town. She’s a dynamo who wants to make friends fast in her new home, and she throws herself into community activities. Meg Corey, now Chapin after her marriage to Seth Chapin, is intrigued by the new arrival, who has already sold the town board on a new, fun way to bring in visitors during the off-season: WinterFare, which will feature local foods (such as Meg’s apples) and crafts, as well as entertainment. 

Tragically, Monica falls ill and dies after the event in what looks like a case of food poisoning. When all the food served at WinterFare has been tested, including Meg’s apples, it becomes clear that there’s a more sinister explanation to the older woman’s sudden demise. 

Meg’s investigation uncovers a bushel of potential suspects, one of whom is rotten to the core.  


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425275832
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Series: Orchard Mystery Series , #11
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 66,583
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sheila Connolly is the New York Times bestselling, Anthony and Agatha award-nominated author of the Orchard Mysteries, the Museum Mysteries, and the County Cork Mysteries. She has taught art history, structured and marketed municipal bonds for major cities, worked as a staff member on two statewide political campaigns, and served as a fundraiser for several nonprofit organizations. She also managed her own consulting company, providing genealogical research services. In addition to genealogy, Sheila loves restoring old houses, visiting cemeteries, and traveling. Now a full-time writer, she thinks writing mysteries is a lot more fun than any of her previous occupations. She is married and has one daughter and three cats.

Read an Excerpt


"Did we celebrate Christmas this year?" Meg Corey Chapin asked her still-newish husband, Seth.

He turned from the stove in the kitchen, holding up a coffeepot. "More?"

"Please!" Meg told him.

Seth refilled her cup, topped off his, and sat down across from her at the kitchen table. His dog, Max, a solidly built Golden Retriever, laid a head on his foot and resumed his nap. "Christmas . . . yes, I believe we did. I seem to remember there was a tree, and boxes with paper and ribbons on them, and family members kept popping in. Why are you asking now?"

"Because it all seems like a blur. After the honeymoon, which wasn't exactly normal or typical—not that I'm complaining, and it wasn't our fault that we got stuck solving a murder—we came back and Bree told us she was taking another job and leaving in two weeks, and somehow I haven't gotten things together since. Thank goodness there's nothing that absolutely needs to be done right now in the orchard."

"It's too bad Bree had to leave," Seth agreed.

Bree had been Meg's orchard manager since she'd first arrived in Granford to find she owned an apple orchard and might actually need to make an income from it. When they'd first met, Bree had recently graduated from UMass in nearby Amherst, but she was young, untested, female, and born to Jamaican parents, any of which could have been an impediment to finding a job in agriculture. But she'd come highly recommended by a respected professor at UMass, Christopher Ramsdell, born in Australia, and Meg knew she needed someone to manage the orchard, since she was clueless about it, so she'd agreed to hire Bree. Christopher had been using the orchard as a sort of living demonstration for his students, so he knew it well. Meg had hoped that he had transferred most of that information to Bree, and it turned out that he had.

Meg couldn't afford to pay Bree much. She had thrown in free housing to sweeten the deal, so since her arrival Bree had been living in the Colonial house Meg had acquired along with the orchard. She'd proved to be a good roommate: she had kept to herself, done her share of the cooking and cleaning, and been invaluable to Meg in getting to know her orchard and learning what trees she had and how to harvest, store, and sell the apples. Bree's Achilles' heel was keeping financial records for the orchard, although she was good at tracking what had been done with which trees and what needed to be done from year to year. But Meg could more than compensate on the financial side since most of her professional experience had come from years of working in a Boston bank. They'd made a good team, even after Seth had started spending more and more time at the house, until they had finally married in December, almost two years after Meg had moved to Granford.

And then Bree had left for an internship in Australia, with Meg's blessing. She wanted Bree to succeed and be happy, but it had left her high and dry. Even after two years, there was still a lot she didn't know about growing apples.

"Tell me about it," Meg told Seth. "But Christopher said he had a good candidate to replace her."

"You think she'll come back here?"

"I really don't know. Selfishly I'd like that, but I want her to do well, so I can't exactly stand in her way. We'll have to see how the new person works out."

"You have anything major on your calendar?" Seth asked.

"Not until we need to prune, and that's not urgent—yet. You?"

"A few small clean-up projects, and I suppose I should start drumming up some new business for when the weather warms up."

"You like the old-house projects better?" Meg asked. Seth had been a plumber, running what had been his father's small company, when they'd first met, but his heart lay in house renovation and restoration, mainly for the older buildings in the area, and there were plenty of those.

"Better than what?" he replied. "There aren't a lot of major projects coming down the pike. Well, the town is still wrestling with what to do with the old library, now that the new one is open, but if they can't decide what that building should be, they can't exactly advertise for architects, much less contractors. And there might be a conflict of interest, since I'm a town selectman. You and I both know I'd give them a fair estimate, but we don't want anybody to challenge the process. I'm okay with that."

"And that's the only major project? That suits your particular skills, that is?"

"For now. Most people wait until winter's over to see what work their homes need, so I'm not worried. Besides, you can support me, right?"

"In your dreams! But we'll always have apples to eat. I can plant a garden, and maybe you can trap a muskrat or two in the swamp."

"There aren't a lot of muskrats in Massachusetts, and I think you need a permit to trap them. You want to make a fur coat? I'm not about to shoot anything. How do you feel about eating frogs?"

"I've tried them once, I think. Kinda like chicken? But not a lot of meat on them." Meg took another sip of her coffee. "So, the bottom line is, there's nothing either one of us has to do today?"

"Looks like it. You have any ideas?"

"I am at a total loss. I don't know what to do with spare time anymore. And I refuse to look at spreadsheets, though I know taxes are looming. Even if I was a financial professional."

"We should discuss our shared finances at some point, you know," Seth said.

"My head knows it, but right now I don't wanna. Very adult of me, isn't it?"

"We could schedule a time. You know, we've got two unrelated businesses to consider, both of which are sole proprietorships, and the details are complicated."

"Seth, my love, you are depressing me. You think I don't know that? Let me ask you this: do we have money in the bank right now, after all the wedding and honeymoon hoo-hah?"

"So that was hoo-hah? Live and learn. Yes, we have some money, and we can cover our bills. But we may never be able to retire."

"That is the farthest thing from my mind at the moment."

Their banter was interrupted by an insistent banging on the front door. "What time is it?" Meg asked. "That much noise this early is seldom good news. And nobody who knows us uses that door."

"So you want me to go, right?" Seth said, smiling.

"If you will, please, sir. I've got your back."

Seth stood up and headed through the dining room and the living room to the front door. Meg didn't move. Please, let it not be a crisis. They'd had more than their share in recent months. She heard the creak of the door opening, and the rumble of male voices. All right, their unexpected caller was male. Salesman? State trooper? Religious fanatic? She couldn't begin to guess. Luckily Seth returned quickly, followed by a twentysomething guy wearing well-worn clothes and a heavy, shapeless coat. He was shorter than Seth—maybe about her height? He could use a haircut, but at least he didn't have one of the scruffy beards that seemed to be popular among his age group.

"Meg, this is Larry Bennett. He says Christopher sent him."

"Hey, hi," the guy said. "Sorry—Christopher said he'd meet me here so we could do the introduction thing. He told me you needed an orchard manager?"

"Ah. Yes, we do," Meg said. "Please, sit down. You want some coffee?"

Larry sat. "Yeah, sure. Please," he added as an afterthought.

"Seth, can you do the honors with the coffee?" Meg asked. "I'm Meg Corey, uh, Chapin. Sorry, Seth, but I'm still getting used to it."

"No problem—I think my ego will survive." He set a mug of coffee in front of Larry and took a seat next to Meg.

"We just got married last month," Meg explained, feeling foolish. "I don't know how much Christopher has told you, but I'll give you the short version while we wait. I kind of inherited this place about two years ago, and when I decided to stay I realized I'd have to make a living from the orchard, if possible. But I had no experience, so Christopher suggested I hire Bree—Briona Stewart—who was one of his students. Did he explain all this?"

"Not a lot. So she's been working here for two years? Why's she leaving?"

"She was offered an internship in Australia, which would be a big plus on her résumé, and I told her she should take it. She left right after New Year's."

"So you need someone to manage the whole thing? What've you got?"

"'Bout fifteen acres of mature trees, and we put in another three acres of new trees last year, mostly heirlooms."

"What do you do for storage?"

"Seth built some refrigerated storage units in the barn when we started, but mostly I sell direct to local markets."

"So no big contracts?"

"No, and I'm not looking for any right now," Meg said, reflecting that this Larry person wasn't exactly making nice with his new employer, although he was asking the right questions. A little rough around the social edges?

Larry turned to Seth. "You—Seth, is it?—you work in the orchard, too?"

"No, I'm a renovator, but I know plumbing. Separate operation, but I use the building next to the barn as my office space."

"Other employees?" Larry turned back to Meg, dismissing Seth abruptly.

"Bree set up a team of pickers for me who come in for the harvest."

"No automation?"

"Not for the picking. No, we pick by hand, and move the apples around with our tractor. When there's a drought, which we have had recently, there's a well that supplies the orchard, but we need to install a new pumping system."

"Expensive," Larry said.

"Yes, it will be." Meg decided it was time to take charge. After all, she was supposed to be interviewing him, not the other way around. "What's your background?"

"I've got a degree in plant sciences from Cornell. You know about their apple programs, right?"

"I've heard of them, but I haven't visited. It's on my wish list. When did you graduate?"

"A couple of years ago."

"And what have you been doing since?"

"I've taken a bunch of graduate-level agricultural courses at UMass—that's how I met Christopher. There was some grant funding for apple research projects, so I was working on those. I haven't made up my mind if I want to go for a grad degree, but I need a job."

"Have you worked in an orchard before?"

"My folks had one, but they're gone now, and so's the orchard."

"Why do you want this job? We're pretty small, and there's not a lot of room to grow. What can you learn here?"

"Look, I need a paycheck, all right? I know apples, and there are some good ideas I picked up, that I'd like to try out."

"Assuming I'm willing. You'd be working for me, and I need to be part of making any decisions."

Larry looked like he was swallowing a comment, but in the end he said, "Yeah, I get that. But I can bring new ideas to you, right?"

"Of course. I don't pretend to know everything, but I wanted to be clear from the start. I'm willing to listen to you."

Meg sat back and contemplated this Larry person. He was kind of abrasive. Defensive? Or just obnoxious? And young. Still, if he'd been raised with an orchard, he must have more experience than Bree had when she took on the job. And if Christopher vouched for him, he must have something going for him. Where the heck was Christopher, anyway? A knock at the back door answered that question. Meg got up to let Christopher in.

"So sorry I'm late, Meg, my dear. Seth. Ah, I see my young protégée has arrived. How've you been getting on, Larry?"

Larry shrugged. "Okay, I guess."

"Coffee, Christopher?" Seth asked.

"Oh, no, no, thank you. I've had my fill for this morning."

"Have you heard from Bree, Christopher?" Meg asked.

"My contact in Australia informs me that she arrived safely and is quick to learn. I don't expect to hear much more from her. And you?"

"No, but I assume she's busy." Not that Bree owed her any personal contact. They'd moved past an employer-employee relationship, but stopped somewhere short of friends.

"Has Larry seen your property yet?" Christopher changed the subject adroitly.

"Just from the road," Larry said. "We were talking about the job."

"Well, then, I suggest we take a look at the orchard and the relevant facilities," Christopher said, rubbing his hands together.

"I'll leave you to it," Seth said. "I've got some other chores to do."

"Seth, can you feed the goats, please?" Meg asked.

"Sure, no problem. And I'll give Max some exercise, too."

Meg stood up. "Well, then, let's take the tour." They gathered up their coats, and Meg led the way out the back door, followed by Christopher and Larry.


"Ask any questions you want, Larry," Meg said. They stood huddled together in the driveway, shivering in the January wind. Meg pointed. "That's Seth's office space, at the end of the driveway. The barn is obviously the barn. That's where the storage for the apples is."

"Can we take a look at that?" Larry asked.

"Sure." Meg led them to the front of the barn and hauled open one of the big double doors. Inside, she pointed to the apple storage units aligned along one wall. "That's what we've got, the ones Seth built."

"How full are they now?" Larry asked.

"About twenty-five percent, I think. The ones that ripened late or hold well."

"Where were the apples kept before you built these?"

"You'd do better to ask Christopher. I've got a pretty short history here."

Christopher spoke up. "We had no holding facilities here then. The university managed this as an experimental orchard, and while some of the apples were sold commercially, that was not a priority. Some went to the university kitchens, others to local shelters."

"So you were more interested in managing the trees than in optimizing the crop?" Larry asked.

"Yes. That's how I chose to define my mandate," Christopher said. "The sale and marketing aspects were handled by others. In your opinion, young Mr. Bennett, would this division of labor have had an impact on the crop?"

"Maybe. If you'd been interested in producing more apples, or modifying size or resistance, you might have made different choices."

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A Late Frost 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is nice when murder series acknowledge that not every unexplained death is murder. Here the author does that and keeps the people and their expectations out of life realistic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love these people
CozyMarie More than 1 year ago
Beat the winter blues with A Late Frost. Great characters that grow with the series really make this one for me. I always have to pick up the latest Orchard Mystery to see what they are up to next.
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
Dollycas’s Thoughts Winter in Granford leaves Meg Corey with a lot of time on her hands. Seth doesn’t have a major job at the moment either. You would be able to think these newlyweds would be able to enjoy an extended honeymoon, especially after all the chaos they went through with her parents and the dead handyman. Instead, a new resident, Monica Whitman, has moved to Granford and has a fun idea to bring tourists to town during the colder months, WinterFare. With Seth on the town council, he plays a major role and Meg has a booth selling apples. This first year it is more about bringing the community together. But it may be the last year because Monica is rushed to the hospital and later dies. It looks like a case of food poisoning, meaning Meg could be a suspect. Anyone who sold/served food at the event is in the same boat. Meg is working closely with Art Preston, the chief of police, to pare down the list and try to figure out who killed this enthusiastic newcomer. Sheila Connolly brings almost all the old characters back. Bree has taken a new job in Australia, so Meg needs to hire a new manager. Her mentor, Christopher has someone he thinks is perfect for the job. At their first meeting, Meg isn’t too sure. Larry is not a people person, but he knows his apples. Speaking of a people person, Monica Whitman is one, she talks a mile a minute, and has all sorts of ideas but she doesn’t live long enough for us to really get to know her better. After her death, we meet her husband, Douglas, a quiet man with monumental challenges. These new characters are as well written as the regulars. I really enjoy the normal daily life of Seth and Meg. Their relationship is so comfortable. Figuring out about how to handle taxes now that they are married and both with successful businesses. Deciding what to do with Seth’s family home now that he has moved in with Meg. Children in the future. . . maybe? I enjoyed the friendship that they have with Art. He wasn’t in charge of the investigation but he trusted their thoughts and theories, even going beyond his authority to get answers. The mystery was top-notch and could have played out several ways. Ms. Connolly shocked me with the ending. It made perfect sense but my thinking was never drawn to the person for one instant. This is a marvelous mystery series. I have enjoyed every visit to Granford and can’t wait to return. This next apple season is going to be very interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast moving mystery who poisoned Monica.
chefdt More than 1 year ago
A Late Frost is the eleventh book in An Orchard Mystery series. A Late Frost is another wonderful addition to this exciting and informative series. Ms. Connolly does a beautiful job of weaving into the story what it takes to manage an apple orchard. Meg and Seth are back in Granford after their whirlwind honeymoon and are settling into married life. The first thing on her agenda is to find a replacement for Bree, her orchard manager who had moved on to an internship in Australia. Her friend Christopher, sends over one of his students, Larry Bennett. Larry was rather brash at their first meeting, but he soon admits to this and, even though he has rather aggressive plans for the orchard, they are able to come to an agreement and once again Meg has an orchard manager. Meanwhile, Granford is preparing for its first WinterFare. Recently, Monica Whitman, a human dynamo, has moved to town and is leading the planning of the fare to bring the residents together, and hopefully more visitors, when most people have extra times on their hands. There will be tables with crafts, food to sample and Meg will have a table where she will have her apples available. Monica seems to well liked by everyone and has done an amazing job bringing everything together in a short period of time. The only negative thing anyone has to say about Monica is that one can’t get a word in edge-wise when she is talking to them. But while Monica is walking around and sampling items from the various tables she suddenly collapses and is taken to the hospital soon dies. Art, the local sheriff, asks Meg to go with him to talk with Monica’s husband. When they arrive at their home, Meg is surprised that the house is in such disarray, as Monica was always neat as a pin. But they begin to suspect that the husband might be suffering from dementia. With the condition the kitchen was in, she could have easily picked up some kind of bacteria. It is soon learned that was probably killed her was Colchicine which can be found in wild garlic, autumn crocus, and meadow saffron. With something so prevalent in the area it will be difficult to track where it came from and who might have wanted to end Monica’s life. Recipes are also included in the book. I love this series and am eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
LisaKsBooksReviews More than 1 year ago
A mystery filled bushel of cozy reading at its best, A LATE FROST is the perfect cold weather treat! I’m writing this review while in the middle of a massive book hangover. The Orchard Mystery series is one of my must reads, and I’m beyond excited each time there is a new installment. Finally getting to read this eleventh book in the series, all I can say is . . . it was more than worth the wait! Main characters, Meg and Seth Chapin are home from their honeymoon. I loved seeing them back in Granford, Massachusetts as a married couple, and I look forward to many more stories to come with this perfect pair. Hmmm…will we get to read about a little Chapin soon? Aside from the sweet scenes with our leads in this series, A LATE FROST was an excellent mystery with an intricate plot. There were so many ways this story could have gone, and I thought I had it all figured out. But author Sheila Connolly blew me away with the reveal in this tale. Brava to her for the uniqueness of the killer. My guesses never even came close! A LATE FROST is one mystery you don’t want to miss!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the apple orchard mysteries., they are a fun relaxed read.