The Blueberry Blow Out festival has begun and it’s time for Marlee Jacob, owner of The Berry Basket, to shine. Unfortunately it’s also bringing out the worst in her fiancé Ryan Zeller. Ryan’s rivalry with Porter Gale, owner of Blueberry Hill Farm, spills over into a very public and very ugly fight. And after they compete in the pie-eating contest and a raucous tug of war, their orchard blood feud takes a deadly turn . . .
The death of the king of Blueberry Hill is a shock but not too surprising—he was a diabetic whose last pig out meal was deliciously fatal. But when authorities discover that someone tampered with Porter’s insulin, a tragic accident is looking like murder—and Ryan is the key ingredient. Now Marlee’s investigation to clear his name is taking her deep into the Gale family secrets, and she’s being shadowed every step of the way by a killer whose sweet revenge is just beginning . . .
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As owner of The Berry Basket store in Oriole Point, Michigan, I'm regarded as an expert on all things berry related. My involvement in two murders this summer tacked on amateur sleuth to my résumé. Now I prepared to add glutton to that list of accomplishments. Of course, I first needed to win the blueberry pie — eating contest to earn the title, but I felt confident I had the determination — and the appetite — to pull it off.
Adjusting my rain poncho, I sat down at the picnic table.
"You can win, Marlee. I know you can."
I glanced up to see the concerned blue eyes of my fiancÃ©, Ryan Zellar.
"But what really matters is that you beat Porter's wife. The Gales can't defeat us twice in one morning." Ryan seemed genuinely pained by the prospect.
Fifteen minutes ago, his brother had been beaten in the men's pie-eating contest by Porter Gale. Ryan's family ran Zellar Orchards, and the Gale family, led by Porter, owned Blueberry Hill, the largest blueberry farm in the state. To Ryan's dismay, Blueberry Hill exceeded them in sales and global reach, resulting in a rivalry between the two families. I didn't understand the enmity. After all, Blueberry Hill sold only blueberries, while Zellars grew everything from peaches and apples to four kinds of berries. It seemed silly to turn a healthy commercial competition into an orchard blood feud. But a feud it certainly was, and the reason I wore a plastic poncho on a sunny August day, readying myself to dive into a blueberry pie.
"The odds are in my favor. I didn't eat breakfast or lunch today, so I'm starving. And blueberry pie is my favorite. Last year, I finished off half a pie at the Fourth of July picnic."
"I remember. I swear, I don't know where you put it." His appreciative gaze swept over my trim body, visible beneath the transparent poncho. "I only wish I'd volunteered to compete in the men's contest instead of Richard. Even if I don't like the taste of blueberries, I couldn't have done any worse than my brother."
"Don't blame Richard. He did his best." Indeed, Ryan's youngest brother made a valiant attempt to bolt down his pie but broke out in a coughing fit midway through.
"Give me a break. How does someone snort blueberry pie up his nose? And for Porter to win makes it even worse." Ryan glared at the man who stood at the end of the table. "The man's a diabetic, for God's sake."
"What!" I looked over at Porter with alarm. Like Ryan, he appeared to be giving last-minute encouragement to his wife, Sloane, one of my fellow contestants. "If he's diabetic, he shouldn't be eating sugar, especially not an entire pie. What if he goes into insulin shock?"
"Don't get my hopes up. The man looks as healthy as an ox. He's as dumb as one, too."
Ignoring Ryan's sarcasm, I observed Porter more closely for signs he might become ill. But he appeared remarkably robust. I knew he was the same age as Ryan — thirty-four — but his powerful, stocky frame made a sharp contrast to Ryan's lanky physique. Not that Ryan wasn't muscular, but he didn't give the impression of brute force like Porter did. I didn't find it surprising Porter had eaten a whole pie in record time. He seemed like a person who wouldn't let anything stand in his way, including a pie-eating contest at the fairground. Still, as a diabetic he should steer clear of sugary pie. He might not be dumb, as Ryan claimed, but Porter had proven himself reckless where his health was concerned.
My attention turned next to Porter's wife, Sloane, who looked more like a cast member of The Bachelor than a pie-eating contestant at the county fair. Although a pretty girl, Sloane wielded her cosmetic brushes with such zeal that she often brought to mind a Kabuki performer. Today was no exception. Since the contest required that she stick her face in a pie, I didn't understand why she wore cherry-red lipstick, a shimmery bronzer, and false eyelashes. I thought her an unlikely candidate for such a contest. No doubt her husband "volunteered" her for the event, as Ryan did me.
I watched as Sloane tucked her shoulder-length mass of perfectly highlighted blond hair beneath a shower cap to prevent it from getting covered in pie filling. My fellow contestants did likewise. I should have followed their example. Instead, I skimmed my long hair back into a ponytail. Bad enough to be photographed with a face covered in blueberry pie. Doing so while wearing a shower cap and a rain poncho ranked too high on the cringe meter.
Two women acting as the contest judges covered the picnic table with a white plastic tablecloth. A moment later, volunteers delivered our blueberry pies, each one set before us with a flourish. My empty stomach growled at the delectable sight and smell of fresh-baked buttery crust and blueberry filling. The flies agreed, and I shooed them away.
"Don't let Sloane Gale win," Ryan reiterated.
"Don't worry. She's probably never taken part in a pie-eating contest before."
Actually, I had no way of knowing what Sloane Gale might enjoy. Oh, we'd exchanged a few words at Oriole Point county events. Our lakeshore village numbered only four thousand residents, so none of us were strangers to each other. But I didn't know much about her aside from the fact she married Porter Gale a little over a year ago, and that they had no children. I judged her to be a good decade younger than Porter, but her Vogue photo shoot makeup made it difficult to gauge her exact age. A younger millennial, for sure. And one unprepared for the indignity of taking part in a pie-eating contest.
When a loud electronic hum rang out, all eyes turned to an elegant blond woman who surveyed the crowd from the nearby outdoor stage.
Ryan groaned. "Why is Piper announcing your contest? Isn't it bad enough she runs everything in town? Now she's barging in on county business."
"You know the Blueberry Blow Out involves everyone in Oriole County. That includes the villagers." I grinned at him. "Don't forget I'm from the village, too."
"Not for long. As soon as we get married, you'll be out in the country with me."
"That's still up for discussion," I reminded him, but his attention had shifted to Piper.
"I need everyone to quiet down now," Piper said in a tone demanding obedience.
As the crowd near the stage grew silent, Piper frowned in the direction of the carnival midway, where a cacophony of bells, whistles, and calliope music could be heard. When it became apparent she had no control over the din coming from the rest of the fairground, she rolled her eyes. To Ryan's consternation I liked Piper, despite her air of entitlement, which she wore as easily as a cashmere stole. Yes, she sometimes tried my patience, but since she was nearly twenty years older than me, I allowed her some leeway. Ryan did not.
He was right about Piper getting involved in everything. Piper ran the Oriole Point Tourist and Visitor Center in town. And as a descendant of Oriole Point's founding family, Piper Lyall-Pierce managed to take control whether the event took place at city hall or a tractor pull. Her social standing rose even further after she married retired executive Lionel Pierce, also known as our mayor. These things, along with her enormous wealth, put Piper at the top of the Oriole County food chain. Only I wouldn't have thought Piper cared to take part in something as slapstick as a pie-eating contest. Then again, Piper couldn't bear to be left out of anything.
Tapping her microphone, Piper said, "Attention, everyone. It is time for the women's blueberry pie — eating contest. Before we commence, how about another round of applause for the victor of the men's event: Porter Gale, owner of the world-famous Blueberry Hill."
Whistles and cheers rang out as Porter took a bow. Oriole Point not only sat along the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, our surrounding countryside was known as Michigan's fruit belt. Tourism and the orchards provided much of the employment in the village and the county. The biggest of these commercial enterprises, Blueberry Hill enjoyed the grateful support of its workers, evident in the reception Porter now received.
Ryan swore under his breath, increasing my worry. What if I didn't win? I looked at the women who sat at the table with me. Could I beat all of them? Sloane, probably. But the others hailed from farms and orchards out in the country. As the only contestant who lived in the village, I had no idea what their eating capacity might be. Perhaps they ate more pie than I did. And faster, too.
Maybe I shouldn't have agreed to take part in the contest when Ryan asked me. I needed to say no more often. Especially to him. Only I felt I had little choice. Ryan's sister-in-law Emily had won this contest four times. This summer a pregnant Emily suffered from morning sickness, and her sensible doctor disapproved of the mother-to-be gulping down an entire pie in a few minutes. Even the highly competitive Adam Zellar thought Emily should refrain from fairground contests this year. Of course there were four other Zellar brothers whose respective wives and girlfriend could have been drafted for the event. Ryan decided my two years as owner of The Berry Basket qualified me as the best woman to pig out on berry pie. Besides, the Zellars already regarded me as one of them, even if Ryan and I wouldn't exchange vows until January. If I won today, the Zellars won, too.
I smiled at the assorted Zellars waving at me from the crowd of onlookers. When Ryan's dad gave me a big thumbs-up, I sent a silent prayer to the pie gods.
Piper tapped the microphone once more, which brought the cheers and hoots for Porter to a close. I wondered what had happened to Walter Kluyper, owner of Kluyper Feed Store. He'd presided over the men's event with lusty enthusiasm. Certainly, Walter seemed better suited as a pie contest emcee than Piper, who wore a black sundress covered with huge sunflowers that I suspected came from the latest RTW collection of Dolce and Gabbana. I'd spent several years as a producer at the Gourmet Living Network in New York City and knew my designers.
"For those who have just joined us," Piper said, "let me welcome you to the opening day of our annual Blueberry Blow Out. Because this is the height of tourist season along the lakeshore, many of you might be from out of town. If so, you will be interested to learn that Michigan leads the nation in highbush blueberry production. Every August, Oriole Point County celebrates the bounty of our blueberry harvest with seven days of festivities here at the fairground. We hope you enjoy the many activities we have scheduled, which include live musical performances, amusement park rides, vendor booths, and a variety of competitions. This brings us to the women's blueberry pie — eating contest."
She pointed a blue air horn at the twelve of us in our plastic ponchos. "As soon as my air horn blasts, these ladies will race to see who can finish eating an entire blueberry pie first. And they must do so without using their hands. Before we proceed, I'd like to thank the Cooking Circle members of Oriole Point's First Presbyterian Church for baking the pies."
A smattering of applause greeted this acknowledgment.
Piper continued, "The first woman to eat her pie wins fifty dollars, along with the title of Women's Champion Blueberry Pie Eater of Oriole County."
I made a face. There were lots of things I'd like to be known for instead of stuffing myself with pie. But I'd never turn down a blue ribbon. And because I hadn't eaten a thing all day, my appetite for that pie grew every second. However, my thirst outweighed my hunger pangs. The afternoon sun beat down, causing my bare legs and arms to grow damp beneath the poncho. Reaching for the water bottle each contestant had been given, I let out a cry of protest when someone yanked the bottle out of my hand.
"No drinking until after you've eaten the pie," a familiar voice hissed in my ear. "Water cuts down on your appetite. You need to stay ravenous."
I lifted an eyebrow at Andrew, one of three retail clerks I employed at The Berry Basket. "It's like a sauna out here and I'm dying of thirst. If my mouth is too dry, how do you imagine I'll be able to eat an entire pie?" Snatching the water bottle away from him, I unscrewed the cap and took a long swig.
"That's enough." He took it from me once more. "Dean and I bet twenty dollars you'd win this contest. I have no intention of letting you blow this thing right before it starts."
"You and your brother shouldn't be betting on the contest at all. And why are you here? You're supposed to be manning our Berry Basket booth right now. Or did you convince Dean to take over for you? His shift doesn't start for another hour."
"Don't be silly. Dean isn't about to miss this. He's right there." Andrew nodded at his older brother, who waved at me from among the crowd.
People who saw the Cabot brothers for the first time often assumed they were twins. Both were tall, attractive, auburn haired, and as concerned with style and fashion as Piper, but without her disposable income. Despite their striking similarities, they were eleven months apart in age — actual Irish twins, given their Celtic ancestry. They also were the bearers of every snippet of gossip in town; their knowledge surpassed only by the rumor-spreading talents of their mother, Suzanne Cabot, who worked as receptionist at the local police station. Between the three of them, Oriole Point had no need of a newspaper or Twitter feed.
Luckily, I'd grown quite fond of both brothers in the two years they had worked for me. There were times I felt more like their big sister than their employer. They were often as hard to control as kid brothers, too.
My best friend, Tess, stood beside Dean, holding up her phone to let me know she was about to film my pie-eating efforts. Dean fished his own phone out of a back pocket and held it up, too. While I expected Tess to be here to give moral support, I should have known neither Cabot brother would miss the chance to watch their boss make a public spectacle of herself.
"If neither of you are at our booth, who is? It can't be Gillian. She's working at the store today. Please don't tell me you left our merchandise and the cashbox unattended."
"Do I look that irresponsible?" Andrew threw me an injured look. "I spotted Theo at the fairground today, so I asked him to watch the booth while I came here."
"Theo? Theo's a baker. He doesn't know anything about sales." I didn't need to add that Theo suffered from crippling shyness. Andrew knew my Berry Basket baker grew anxious and uncomfortable when surrounded by too many people.
"Theo will be fine," Andrew replied. "You baby him too much."
Ryan crouched down beside me. "Concentrate, Marlee. The contest is about to start."
"He's right." Andrew massaged my shoulders, as if I were a boxer about to go into the ring. "Keep your head down. Focus. And eat like a pig."
Taking a deep breath, I readied myself. Except I couldn't get rid of the image of a panic-stricken Theo left alone at the store's booth. Now I had another reason to gobble up that pie. As soon as I did, Andrew could be sent to relieve my skittish baker.
The blare of the air horn made me jump. As shouts rose up from the crowd, I looked at the blueberry pie before me. I'd taken part in pie-eating contests at summer camp and knew exactly what to do. Clamping the side of the aluminum pie plate with my teeth, I flipped the contents of the pie onto the table. It spread before me in a gooey blue mass. Like a human vacuum cleaner, I started to slurp up the blueberry filling.
The sticky filling coated my face and lashes; some got into my eyes, but I continued to eat, running my tongue along the tablecloth to scarf up as much as possible. Turning my attention to the crust next, I reminded myself to chew the pieces a few times before swallowing. The woman next to me hadn't and began to choke, just as Ryan's brother had.
With Ryan and Andrew cheering me on, I quickly devoured what was left of the pie. Smeared with blueberries, I raised my head and sat back. The crowd hooted and yelled. The judges who stood at the end of the table signaled to Piper, who once again blared the air horn.
"We have a winner!" Piper yelled into the microphone. "Marlee Jacob, owner of The Berry Basket, is this year's women's champion of the Blueberry Pie — Eating Contest!"
Relief washed over me, accompanied by a wave of nausea. I hoped I wasn't about to be sick. Andrew clapped me on the back, which didn't help.
"Fantastic!" Ryan grabbed my face and gave me a jubilant kiss. When he pulled away, I giggled to see his own face now smeared with blueberry filling. "You're the best, Marlee. The best! No one else came even close."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Killed on Blueberry Hill"
Copyright © 2018 Sharon Pisacreta.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
KILLED ON BLUEBERRY HILL is a delightful story. I loved the characters, the pacing, and the setting. Farrow's humor can be laugh-out-loud funny, and the mystery kept me guessing until the very end. Although this book is part of a series, I didn't feel as if I were missing anything having skipped the first two. A perfect read for those who enjoy lighter mysteries. Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book.
Summer may be winding down, but Oriole Point, Michigan, is getting in one more berry inspired festival to bring in the tourists. The Blueberry Blow Out Festival includes carnival games, booths, and friendly competition between the various berry growers in the area. At least it is supposed to be friendly. Marlee Jacobs is shocked when she witnesses a fight between her fiance, Ryan Zeller, and Porter Gale, the owner of one of the biggest blueberry farms in the country. Yes, there is bad blood between the two families, but this went much further than a rivalry normally would. When Porter dies a few hours later, people think it is complications from his diabetes. However, the police believe it is something more, and they are looking at Ryan as a suspect. Can Marlee clear him? I love this series, and this book is another example of why. The characters are strong. The series regulars are fun, and a couple even made me laugh, but we spend more time with the suspects, and they actually felt better developed to me than the regulars. Not that I'm complaining. The strong suspects helped drive a complex plot where the red herrings provided their own complications, not just as a distraction from figuring out who the killer is. I enjoyed the book the entire way through, but the final third got so compelling I really didn't want to put the book down. Throw in a few blueberry infused recipes, and you've got a fantastic book.
This was great.
In this next book of the series the Blueberry Blow Out festival has started and Marlee is excited to have a booth to show off what The Berry Basket has to offer. All looks good I told her fiance Ryan signs her up for a pie eating contest without telling her. She reluctantly agrees and actually wins but is noticing that Ryan seems to do things all the time without asking her opinion. Things start to go down hill when Ryan gets into a fight with his rival during the tug-of-war competition. Marlee is beginning to see Ryan in a different light, what happened to the man she fell in love with? When Porter, Ryan's rival, ends up dead on one of the rides it looks like he had a heartache. After it comes to light that he was poisoned Marlee worries that Ryan will be a top suspect and with the way things are going she isn't sure how to feel about it all. She realizes that she can't just sit by and do nothing so she starts her own investigation. During her search for answers she comes across several secrets that the dead mans family had hidden away. With so many suspects to choose from Marlee doesn't know if she'll find the answers she seeks. What about Ryan? Can she trust and marry a man that has been acting crazy and been caught in a lie? Follow along as Marlee digs deep to come up with the an explanation for who the killer is and why. This is a fantastic series that will having you craving berries!!!
a fun read with plenty of emotional twists and turns KILLED ON BLUEBERRY HILL by Sharon Farrow The Third Berry Basket Mystery The heat is on, literally, as Oriole Point celebrates the Blueberry Blow Out Festival. Tempers are flaring as the summer temperatures increase. Marlee Jacob is aghast at her fiancé's behavior as the feud between Zeller Orchards and Blueberry Hill Farm turns violent. But Ryan's behavior toward Porter is just one warning sign, his behavior toward her is worrying as well. When Porter dies, everyone assumes that his death was due to his careless disregard to his diabetes. But was it actually murder? And could Ryan actually be guilty? The third Berry Basket Mystery is a labyrinth filled with subtle clues scattered amid the red herrings and suspicious behavior of multiple suspects. Sharon Farrow proves to be a master at manipulating emotions, spiking my anger at the various behaviors of some of the characters and annoyance towards others. I wanted to smack quite a few of them. Natasha's return to the scene brought a breath of fresh air and some much needed comic relief from all of the drama. This vivacious "shark shooter" is a hoot. She's funny and over the top, yet with down to earth common sense and a heart of gold. This character driven mystery has a theme of familial loyalty, love, and hate. How far will family, particularly mothers, go to protect their children? How much faith and trust should people have in the ones they love? And how long will it take for the scales to come off their eyes? KILLED ON BLUEBERRY HILL is a fun read with plenty of emotional twists and turns as it reflects on family dynamics, love, and loyalty. Recipes included. FTC Disclosure – The publisher sent me a copy of this book in the hopes I would review it.
Concerned about her upcoming wedding Marlee Jacob feels fiance Ryan Zeller is becoming more and more controlling but when she sees him almost kill a man her concern turns to trepidation. When that man is later murdered Ryan becomes a top suspect. Marlee thinks he must be innocent but as the facts unravel she soon discovers she does not know the real Ryan. I enjoyed all the different facets of the story which made it a fun challenge to try and figure out the real murderer. With an interesting twist at the end all was revealed. Thanks to Kensington Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange to a fair and honest review. I look forward to book #4 in A Berry Basket Mystery series.