It’s fall in Winter Garden, Virginia, and business at Amy Flowers’ Down South Café has never been better. So when struggling beekeeper Stuart Landon asks Amy to sell some of his honey, she’s happy to help. The jars of honey are a sweet success, but their partnership is cut short when Amy discovers Landon’s body outside the café early one morning.
As Amy tries to figure out who could possibly have wanted to harm the unassuming beekeeper, she discovers an ever-expanding list of suspects—and they’re all buzzing mad. She’ll have to use all of her skills—and her Southern charm—to find her way out of this sticky situation...
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I was working on breakfast prep when my cousin Jackie popped her head into the kitchen and said, "Amy, Stu Landon is here."
"Great. Thanks." I removed my plastic gloves and then went outside to greet the beekeeper.
Mr. Landon and I had just entered into an arrangement wherein I'd sell his honey on consignment to my patrons. I own and operate the Down South Café, one of Winter Garden, Virginia's only two restaurants.
It was a gorgeous August morning, and Mr. Landon, a tall, thin man with salt-and-pepper hair, was shading his eyes with his hand when I stepped out into the sunlight.
"Did you want me to bring the honey in through the back of the café or the front?"
"Just bring it into the dining room and put it on the counter, please," I said. "I've already cleared some shelf space on the back wall, and I plan to keep a jar by the register so people will be sure to notice it."
Mr. Landon opened the passenger side door of his olive green antique Chevy pickup truck and got out a small plastic crate containing half-pint jars of honey. I held open the door to the café for him and then followed him inside.
He placed the crate on the counter in front of the cash register. "This all right?"
"Perfect." I plucked one of the jars out of the crate. Landon's Bee Farm, Pure All Natural Honey. "I want to buy a couple of jars from you straight out to serve to my diners and one to take home to my mom and Aunt Bess."
I went around the counter, opened the register, and paid Mr. Landon for three jars of honey. I put a note in the register reflecting the transaction and then gave the consignment agreement I'd prepared the night before to Mr. Landon. I still had seven jars left to sell to Down South Café customers.
"Thank you, Ms. Flowers. I'll come around next week to bring you ten more jars." He took a dilapidated cap from the back pocket of his overalls, shook it out, and placed it on his head before leaving.
I turned to my cousin Jackie with a smile. "That one is a man of few words."
"Granny says he used to be some sort of secret agent."
Jackie's granny was my great-aunt Elizabeth, known to Mom and me as Aunt Bess. And since Aunt Bess is blessed with a vivid imagination, I wouldn't normally have given her theory on Mr. Landon more than a passing thought. But unlike most of the residents of Winter Garden, Mr. Landon didn't have much of a history here. He'd simply shown up one day about twenty years ago and taken up residence on the old Carver farm. He'd renovated the farm, started growing his own vegetables, and set up beehives. Since he kept to himself and wasn't very talkative, that's about all folks knew about him. Other than the fact that his honey was really tasty and that Mr. Landon swore that the stuff was good for everything from curing allergies to treating wounds. I didn't know how valid his claims were, but I did know that the honey tasted awfully good on a warm biscuit.
"Why in the world would Aunt Bess think Stu Landon was a secret agent?" I asked Jackie. "And what could the man have possibly been investigating in Winter Garden?"
She shrugged. "You'll have to take that up with Granny, but I believe she's under the impression that Winter Garden was merely his base of operations."
Dilly Boyd, one of our favorite café regulars, came through the door. She was a tiny lady with cottony hair and mischievous blue eyes. She wore a wide-brimmed sun hat that she swept off her head as she joined us at the counter.
"What have you got there?" She peered into the crate. "Ooh, Landon's honey. I'd like a jar, please."
"All right. I'll keep it here by the register for you and you can pick it up on your way out."
"Okay. When did you start selling Landon's honey?"
"Just this morning. It's our first batch, so to speak," I said with a smile. "I'm hoping to get even more of our local farmers to offer some of their crops on consignment."
"Maybe you should host a farmer's market here on Saturday mornings," Dilly said. "That'd be fun."
"That's not a bad idea, Dilly. I'll look into it."
"Before we get completely off track, though," said Jackie, "what do you know about Stu Landon, Dilly?"
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"We were just saying that we've known Mr. Landon all our lives, but we don't know much about him," I said.
"Well, he came here . . . oh, I reckon it was nearly twenty years ago now . . . from somewhere out West. Moved here alone and didn't go out of his way to socialize, other than with the Carvers, who live to the right of his place. That stands to reason, though, since he bought a farm from some of the Carvers. Some folks think they might be kin." She drew her thin, pale eyebrows together. "I always figured somebody had broken Stu's heart and that he came here to hide himself away. Some of us tried to fix him up with daughters or nieces or widows, but he wouldn't have any part of that nonsense, so we finally left him alone." She wandered over to her favorite seat at the counter.
"Scrambled eggs and biscuits?" I asked.
She nodded. "And some hash browns would be nice too."
"Coming right up." I went into the kitchen. "Jackie, would you mind shelving the honey, please? And leave a jar for Mom and Aunt Bess under the counter."
"No problem," she said. "Dilly, how's that raccoon of yours doing?"
Dilly didn't actually own a raccoon, but one came to visit her and get a biscuit every evening.
"He's as right as rain and as punctual as a clockmaker," she said. "He comes to my back door at sundown every single day."
"Wonder if he'd like some honey on his biscuit?" I called from the kitchen.
"I don't know whether he would or not. But if he thinks I'm wasting my good honey on him, the little beggar's mistaken."
We had a little lull in business just before ten that morning, and I was able to grab a cup of coffee and look around the café for a couple of minutes. I always try to remember to acknowledge my blessings every day, and the Down South Caf was certainly a big one.
When I'd bought the café from Pete Holman, it had been a dive. I don't know how else to put it. The place was dingy-the floor was linoleum that should have been replaced twenty years prior, the fixtures were old and tarnished, and most of the stools and dining room chairs had tears. Thanks to my childhood friend-and Jackie's boyfriend-Roger, who had his own construction company, the floors were now gleaming and scuff-resistant bamboo, the walls were a cheerful yellow with blue trim, and we had new gray stools and dining room furniture, new light fixtures, and a patio for patrons to enjoy when the weather cooperated. We also had a refrigerated display case for pies, cakes, cookies, potato salad-whatever we thought our diners might want to take home with them. And we had a bakers' rack with shelves of jams, Down South Café T-shirts and aprons (blue with yellow lettering), and now Mr. Landon's honey.
Homer Pickens came in at ten o'clock, punctual as ever. He was always at the café at ten and always ordered a sausage biscuit. An eccentric, Homer chose a new hero every day.
"Morning, Homer!" I called from the kitchen. I'd finished my coffee and was preparing vegetables for the coming lunch rush.
"Hi, Amy. How are you this morning?"
"I'm good." I covered the bowl of lettuce I'd been shredding and went to speak with Homer properly. "Mr. Landon brought some honey this morning. We're selling it on consignment in addition to serving it to customers and using it in recipes. Would you like some?"
"No, thanks. I'm not a big fan of honey. I liked it when I was a little boy, but then one of my friends told me honey was bee puke. I never touched the stuff again after that."
"Some friend." I glanced around to make sure none of the other diners had heard his remark. If anyone had, it hadn't seemed to put them off their breakfast. "So who's your hero today?"
"Joseph Joubert, the essayist. Joubert once said, 'When you go in search of honey, you must expect to be stung by bees.' Appropriate for this morning, huh?"
"It sure is." I often wondered if Homer had a photographic memory. He was always at the ready with a quote from one of his heroes, and it often applied to the subject at hand. He'd grown up poor and had dropped out of school in the tenth grade to go to work. I wondered how far he might've gone had he been given the opportunity.
"What do you know about Mr. Landon?" I asked. "We were talking about him this morning, and we realized we don't know much about him except that he's a loner with a mysterious past."
"If being a loner makes a man mysterious, then I must be an enigma myself." He took a sip of the coffee Jackie put in front of him. "After Mother died, I was completely alone. It had always been just the two of us. Of course, I dated now and then, but I never let myself get involved in a serious relationship."
"Why's that?" That behavior didn't sound like the warm, generous Homer I knew.
"I never wanted to marry and have children. What if I'd turned out to be like my father? He just ran out on us. I wouldn't have wanted that for any woman or child."
I was trying to think of something encouraging to say when Homer reminded me that he was awfully set in his ways. I took that as my cue to stop yammering and get him that sausage biscuit.
By the time I closed the café that afternoon, I had only three jars of Mr. Landon's honey left, besides the one I'd bought for Mom and Aunt Bess. I decided to go by the farm to see if I could get more. The honey had sold better than Mr. Landon and I had anticipated.
Landon's Bee Farm was only about a twenty-minute drive from Winter Garden. It wasn't as hot as it had been-especially for August-so I drove with the windows down instead of using the air-conditioning. It dawned on me that if my yellow Beetle had more black on it, I'd resemble a giant bumblebee as I buzzed down the country road to see the beekeeper.
To get to the farm, I had to turn off the main road and climb a steep, deeply rutted dirt road. That's when I put up the windows and turned on the air. I didn't want a face full of dust.
No wonder Mr. Landon didn't get many visitors-this road was a nightmare. I drove as slowly as I could without losing the momentum to get up the hill, and I just hoped I didn't damage my car in the process.
When I finally parked near Mr. Landon's small brick house, I stooped down to make sure there were no fluids leaking from the undercarriage of the car. Fortunately, there weren't, but I made a mental note to check again-and to check my tires-before I left. I wondered how Mr. Landon's antique pickup truck survived the trek every day, but then I realized it was much higher off the ground than my little Bug.
I smoothed my hair back from my face and stepped onto the porch. I rang the bell, but Mr. Landon didn't answer the door. I went to see if he might be in the backyard.
Mr. Landon was striding toward the house with his veiled bee hat in his hand. He was still about a hundred yards away from me, but I could see that he was angry. I was beginning to regret dropping in unannounced; and if the man hadn't already seen me, I'd have been sorely tempted to leave.
When he was close enough, I called out, "Hi, Mr. Landon. I hope I'm not catching you at a bad time!" That seemed like a stupid thing to say since he was obviously upset, but I hoped that when I told him how well his honey was selling at the café, it might lift his spirits.
"What can I do for you, Ms. Flowers?" He went into a shed still a few yards away from where I was standing.
I eased forward but steered clear of the shed. I didn't want to crowd his space more than I already was. "I just came to let you know that we almost sold out of your honey today. I wondered if you might be able to spare a few more jars before next week."
Mr. Landon emerged from the shed without the veiled hat and wiped the sweat from his brow with a blue bandanna. "I'll need to put it into jars and drop it off tomorrow morning. Will ten more work?"
"Yes, that'll be great. Thank you."
We stood in awkward silence for a moment, and I was getting ready to say good-bye when Mr. Landon spoke.
"I was hoping to have quite a bit more honey by fall, but I won't if Chad Thomas has his way about it."
"What do you mean?"
"I just came from checking the hives," he said. "And you know what I found? Hundreds of dead bees."
I gasped. "That's terrible! And you believe this Mr. Thomas killed them?"
"I know he did. He wantonly sprays his crops whenever he takes a notion without regard for the safety of my bees." He shook his head. "Most of the farmers around here understand our mutual need to protect pollinators. They know I close the bees up at night and keep them there until noon. If I left them inside any later than that, the sun would cook them."
"Well, that's not going to happen, Ms. Flowers, because I take care of my bees. And most of my neighbors spray when the bees are closed inside their hives. But Chad-" He gave a low growl of disgust. "He's a different story. He sprays whenever he feels like it, and today one of my hives suffered for his flagrant disregard."
"Isn't there some sort of law in place to protect the bees? Aren't they an endangered species?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
HONEY-BAKED HOMICIDE, the third book in Gayle Leeson’s Down South Café Mystery series is an entertaining read that combines both a twisty-turvey murder plot along with a cornucopia of colorful characters. Amy Flowers, owner of the Down South Café in Winter Garden, Virginia is a caring but curious protagonist. I enjoyed her interaction with her patrons, her friends, and her family. When she decides she needs to get involved and start asking questions to find the murderer of reclusive beekeeper, Stu Landon, she starts uncovering secrets of not only the victim, but other people in town. Some would rather those secrets stay hidden and it’s not long before Amy is in danger. When I started the book I thought I knew who the victim and the suspects would be but then the author threw in her twists and I was back to guessing while the story took me for an enjoyable ride. Along the way the reader is treated to delicious sounding meals at Amy’s café along with bits and pieces about the plight of the honeybee. We get to spend time with one of my favorite characters, Homer Pickens, who introduces us to a new hero every day. I love his obscure quotes from his heroes, often times people I’ve never heard about. Yet, they have interesting and insightful words of wisdom to impart through Homer which gives the reader pause to consider and take to heart. While reading, you’ll be drooling over many mentions of amazing meals and thankfully the author provides several recipes at the back of the book. I tried her recipe for Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake... oh my goodness, absolutely delicious... this is definitely a keeper! I was provided an advance copy with the hopes I would review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
For the third straight year, the Down South Café Mysteries has a permanent place on my top 5 favorite cozy mystery series list! From the first sentence of book one in this series, THE CALAMITY CAFÉ, I knew it was a series I was going to love. Now having read this third book, HONEY-BAKED HOMICDE, I have no doubt I will remain a forever fan. The words of this excellent story flew across the pages with ease, making for a quick read. I became lost in the words. I could hear the sounds, and smell the aromas of the different dishes, making me feel like I was a part of the story, and not just a reader. HONEY-BAKED HOMICIDE was a well thought out mystery. Ms. Leeson had me going around in circles trying to guess who the killer was, and the reasoning behind it. On a small negative note (Not neg enough to keep me from giving HONEY-BAKED HOMICDIE a 5 star rating), protagonist Amy Flowers is unfortunate enough to discover another body. I know that’s the way it goes in cozies, and I accept it 100%. That being said, I don’t care for all the victims from each book being found in or near the café. Any more deaths around her business would have to start scaring away her customers. Well, except Homer LOL. On a big happy note, this delightful series by author Gayle Leeson is everything I look for in cozy mysteries. A lovely small town setting, characters I adore, a business that I would totally frequent, and wonderful writing that follows the outline of true cozies. Perfect for all ages, the author proves you can have a successful mystery without the use of cursing, or getting “edgy”. Series like this one are what hooked me on the cozy mystery sub-genre to begin with.
lots of heart stopping moments HONEY-BAKED HOMICIDE by Gayle Leeson The Third Down South Cafe Mystery Mr. Landon's honey is so tasty that Amy Flowers decided not only to use it at her Down Home Cafe, but sell jars of it on consignment. With the honey selling quicker than anticipated, Amy decides to ask for additional jars only to find the quiet beekeeper livid. His neighbor has been improperly spraying pesticides, killing many of his bees. Amy's concerns over Mr. Langdon's vow to handle matters increase when a stranger comes to town looking for him. But nothing could prepare her for finding his murdered body in front of her cafe. Enmeshed in his death, Amy finds herself threatened while simply trying to help. Just who was Mr. Landon? And more importantly, who wanted him dead? HONEY-BAKED HOMICIDE is a great addition to the series. I enjoy seeing Amy's relationship with Ryan grow and the fun she has with her friends and family. The book also touches on some very important environmental and societal issues, particularly the effect of pesticides on bees. There is a lot of conflict in this book, which drives the mystery and makes it more difficult to solve. HONEY-BAKED HOMICIDE induces lots of heart stopping moments as Amy deals with some new characters while discovering the past Mr. Landon tried to leave behind and the future of Winter Garden itself. Recipes Included. FTC Disclosure – The publisher sent me a digital ARC provided through NetGalley, in the hopes I would review it.
This is the third book in the series, and each one has been more exciting than the last. Each book is also easily read as a stand-alone novel if you prefer. Amy Flowers is an independent, strong-willed woman with a fascinating array of family and friends surrounding her. I love that one of her customers, Homer, has a new hero every day whom he shares with Amy over his breakfast, along with a memorable quote from the day's hero. I have taken to writing down my favorite quotes to memorize them. The murder victim in this story was a quiet, unassuming man who was hiding from his past and attempting to protect his family from harm--and was passionate about beekeeping and bees. When we meet his children and his nephew after his death, as well as a neighbor who seems suspicious, there is no shortage of suspects. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a cozy mystery fan.
“Like a good stew, the plot thickens.” I can’t say enough how much I love this cozy mystery series. In fact, the Down South Cafe books are one of my go-to series in this genre. They are clean, entertaining, well-plotted and full of yummy food. All the fave characters return to the Down South Cafe in Honey-Baked Homicide, plus a few new faces for flavor. Aunt Bess continues to be my favorite, with her feisty personality and her hilarious pinterest boarding. Her Lord Have Mercy and People I’ve Outlived boards are good examples of the humor potential here, and Leeson makes full use of it without it being overdone. Aunt Bess doesn’t take over the story – she just shows up when they need some spice. For that matter, Dilly (and her hearing-aid eavesdropping skills plus her raccoon) and Homer (and his hero of the day complete with always situation-appropriate quotes) add their own dose of humor and heart when needed as well. Never too much of these good characters, but just enough to keep us smiling – and waiting to see what they’ll do when they next pop in. Amy is the perfect cozy mystery heroine because she’s completely relatable and doesn’t go asking for trouble (too much). Most of her investigating/snooping occurs while just chatting up guests at the cafe… or fielding suspects as they insert themselves into her life. It makes sense, it feels natural, and it keeps the peace in her romance with her detective boyfriend Ryan. Who, for his part, is protective without being hovering and really seems to value her input instead of begrudgingly tolerating her theories (as cozy mystery detective boyfriends seem to often do). The case in Honey-Baked Homicide has lots of twists and turns and more suspects around every bend. I had my eye on a couple of strong possibilities as far as whodunit …. and I was completely wrong. Which is a testament to Ms. Leeson’s mystery-crafting skills because I grew up watching Murder She Wrote, y’all. Bottom Line: If you haven’t yet started reading the Down South Cafe mysteries, you are missing out on some good reads. Each book can stand on its own, but I love the series so much I’d recommend you just go ahead and start at the beginning. The setting nicely supports the plot, and the supporting characters are both quirky and endearing. Amy’s relationship with her family is sweet and healthy, and there’s such a great mix of wit and suspense wrapped up in a cozy package. A great choice anytime you want an entertaining, clean, and well-written read with fun characters you’ll want as friends! (The recipes at the back are a nice bonus, too!) (I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book)
Another winner in this delicious and surprising mystery series. Amy Flowers is doing well making the cafe her own. Many of the new recipes she tests are accepted by her loyal clientele. She wants to expand into offering local products as well, beginning with jars of honey from a beekeeper who is a bit of a recluse. When that beekeeper is found murdered in the cafe parking lot things get interesting quickly. Who wants him dead and why leave his body where it is quickly discovered? The discovery that he has a family and local family connections are just the tip of many twists to come. Amy finds herself tangled up in the middle. A great cast of characters including Homer and his daily heroes. A mysterious man from the victim's past, is his appearance coincidence or a huge clue. Amy finds herself drawing unwanted attention. There are several very tense moments. The ending will catch you by surprise.
A delightful and charming read. Honey Baked Homicide is a keeper. Winter Garden Valley is filled with fun and quirky characters that appear daily to satisfy their hunger at the Southern Cafe. Amy is surrounded with fun friends and patrons from the quirky Hector that has a penchant for making the day better with a quote to the hilarious Dilly who comes by everyday for lunch or breakfast and must have a biscuit for her pet raccoon. I enjoyed the setting and was delighted that the author included recipes at the end. The mystery plot is interesting and takes the reader on a twisty turny ride. I had an idea who did the deed but was a little surprised along with Amy and the others when the actual villain was uncovered. I enjoyed my visit to the Southern Cafe and look forward to reading more in this series. I received a complimentary copy.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Fall in Winter Garden, a perfect time to visit the Down South Café. Amy Flowers has just made a honey of a deal with beekeeper Stu Landon to sell his honey and use it in her recipes. The first batch was selling quickly so she went to visit him in hopes of a few more jars to sell. She arrived to find Stu upset with his neighbor for using a pesticide on his crops that is killing his bees. Amy leaves with the promise of a delivery of more jars in the morning and Stu ready to face off with his neighbor. When she arrives at the café the next day, Stu is there waiting for her in his truck. When she walks up to his truck she notices something is wrong and when she opens the door to help him she realizes she is too late, the man is dead and it wasn’t from natural causes. The town is soon abuzz about his death and she can’t believe the long list of suspects. It is going to take some sweet skills to catch the killer and Amy finds herself right in the middle of another murder investigation. The author has created a unique band of characters. Amy Flowers has a huge heart, she always wants to help people so she is in the perfect business. The Down South Café has its daily regulars like Dilly and Homer, but people like Stu, Chad Thomas, and Mr. Dougherty from Ives Oil and Gas are new visitors. Stu has lived near town for many years, but he keeps to himself so people don’t know too much about him. Chad Thomas is Stu’s neighbor and he brings his wife to the cafe for the very first time. Mr. Dougherty is in town on business and has been using the café as his place to meet with people. We also meet Stuart’s children and nephew after his death. Their interactions with Amy at the café are complicated. All the other characters we have come to love have returned in this installment too. The murder mystery is complex and unfolds at a steady pace with plenty of drama. Amy becomes the center of attention for two characters wrath and she handles it much better than I would. I found myself drawn to the most obvious suspect and was surprised when the final twist blew my entire thought process out of the water. Gayle Leeson has written a honey of a mystery and I “bee-lieve” it is the best one so far in this series. She also includes several recipes to whet your appetite. The descriptions within the story had my stomach growling. Southern charm, fabulous characters, and a fantastic mystery come together for a great read. It can be read on its own, but I suggest you read all three in order to get to know these characters
Honey-Baked Homicide is the third book in the A Down South Cafe Mystery series. It’s always a joy to stop by the Down South Cafe and check in with Amy Flower, her waitresses, and her loyal customers. Amy has agreed to display beekeeper, Stu Landon’s delicious honey on consignment. It is an immediate hit and a couple days later heads out to his farm to replenish the stock. Landon is one who keeps to himself but does share with Amy that his neighbor has been spraying pesticides during the day and is sure that is why his bees are dying off and says that he will have to confront his neighbor, Chad Thomas. The next morning as Amy is arriving to open the cafe she sees Landon’s pickup truck in her parking lot. When she goes to help him she finds he is past help, he is dead. Amy wants to know who killed him, why and why he was left in her parking lot. It soon comes to light that he was the “whistleblower” at the pesticide company he was working for and had moved to Winter Garden to start a new life. Amy soon learns that a gentleman, Walter Jackson, who had asked Amy where Landon lived was the man Landon had blown the whistle on. Talking with Jackson later, Amy wants to believe his story that he just wants to make amends with Landon. She also needs to learn more about Chad Thomas, who is known to be a bit of a hothead and also wanted to buy Landon’s farm. She wonders how far he would go to buy the farm. When his children come to make funeral arrangements and having conversed with them, she wonders if his estrangement from them could lead them to take his life. With the help of her cousin Jackie and her boyfriend, Deputy Ryan Hall and the internet, she sets off to uncover the murderer. This series has a wonderful cast of characters and the story is well-plotted and told at an even pace. Amy’s Aunt Bessie and Dolly didn’t play a big role but did make appearances. My favorite character, Homer Pickens stops in every for his sausage biscuit and mention his hero of the day and provide a few quotes from the hero. Delicious recipes are also included with the book. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.