Plantation Shudders (Cajun Country Series #1)

Plantation Shudders (Cajun Country Series #1)

by Ellen Byron

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629538242
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Series: Cajun Country Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 154,255
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author


Ellen Byron is a television writer, playwright, and freelance journalist. Her TV credits include Wings, Still Standing, and Just Shoot Me, and her written work has appeared in Glamour, REDBOOK, and Seventeen, among others. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, their daughter, and the family’s very spoiled rescue dog. A native New Yorker, Ellen still misses her hometown, and still drives like a New York Cabbie. This is her debut.

Read an Excerpt


CHAPTER ONE

Maggie flew down southern Louisiana’s River Road in the red ’64 Falcon convertible that she’d inherited from her late grand­father. Strands of brown hair from her thick ponytail whipped her face, but after a day spent flouncing around in a polyester plantation belle gown as a tour guide at Doucet Plantation, the wind’s attack felt great.

The familiar scenery followed a pattern: bucolic country­side, hideous industrial plant, an empty field, hideous petro­chemical plant. This was the schizophrenic nature of what the legendary road had become—one plantation after another either demolished or demoralized with a monstrous neighbor. But there were some gorgeous survivors, like Doucet—and Crozat.

As Maggie crossed the Mississippi and drove toward Bayou Beurre, she thought of tales her family told about love- struck suitors who swam across the mighty river, braving its wicked cur­rents for the chance to woo her great-great-great-grandmother, Magnolia Marie Doucet. It sure beat the “whassup” texts Mag­gie got from her last boyfriend.

The river receded into the background, and gradually the ratio of countryside to industrial complex tilted in country­side’s favor. She slowed down as she passed the large “Welcome to Pelican” sign that featured a fat grinning pelican playing an accordion under the town motto, “Yes, We Pelican! ”It was a clever way of reminding the world that local pronunciation required emphasis on the last syllable of the town’s name, not the first. But Maggie preferred her personal slogan: “Pelican: The Town People Are Smart Enough to Come Home To or Too Dumb to Leave.”

Rather than make a left into Pelican, she stayed on course. A white fence appeared on the left side of the road, its long reach broken in the middle by an open gate. She turned and entered the property, driving down a hard-packed dirt road under a canopy of pine and oak trees. The trees forked left and right to embrace their prize: Crozat Plantation.

While the Doucets, her mom’s family, had long ago donated their historic cash guzzler of a plantation to the state, the Crozats, her dad’s family, had clung to their ances­tral domain, which they now operated as a gracious bed and breakfast. It wasn’t the largest plantation in Louisiana, but with its classic Greek Revival architecture, Crozat was one of the most iconic. Thirty-two majestic square columns encir­cled the entire mansion. A second .oor balcony also ran its circumference, and each .oor featured a wide, welcoming veranda. Crozat was more human than house to Maggie, pulsing with life drawn from the generations of strong and quirky inhabitants it had sheltered for almost two hundred years.

As much as Maggie got a kick out of working at Doucet Plantation and entertaining visitors with her personal connec­tion to it, Crozat was home. But it was a home she envisioned visiting during holidays or for the occasional getaway weekend from New York. It was not a place she planned to slink back to as a thirty-two-year-old whose personal life and career both hit a wall. The Brooklyn art gallery that Maggie and her boyfriend of six years had cofounded was now being run by her ex and the woman he’d married instead of her. She had returned to Louisiana searching for the inspiration she needed to ignite her own career as an artist, but success was proving elusive. Maggie feared that she disproved her own slogan—maybe it wasn’t so smart to come home to Pelican.

“No,” she shouted into the air. She stopped the car, stood up, and shook her fist at the heavens in her best Scarlett O’Hara- reaches- the- end- of- her- rope imitation. “As God is my witness, I will not have downer feelings today.” Maggie resumed a leisurely drive toward the plantation, and her mel­ancholia melted away as she absorbed the lovely view of Cro­zat. She searched for a new perspective on the old home that she could bring to life through oil paints or vibrant watercol­ors, perhaps even pastels.

Then she suddenly shuddered as a chill ran through her lithe body on the warm August day.

People in Pelican took “the shudders” seriously. Whenever they struck Maggie’s Grand-mère Crozat, she drawled dramati­cally, “Someone’s walkin’ on muh graaave.” This was followed by a heated family debate over whom that might be until every­one agreed that it was a case for the town voodoo priestess, a woman respected both for her psychic abilities and for the fact she was the .rst local merchant to download the app that enabled her cell phone to take credit cards.

Maggie searched her mind for what could have spooked her but came up empty. Maybe this was just one of those rare cases where a chill was just a chill, she shrugged. Still . . . it made her nervous.

She drove past the plantation into a garage placed at the far end of the property, where guests wouldn’t notice its peeling paint. The Crozats were still playing financial catch-up after Hurricane Katrina, so repainting the family garage was on hold until possibly forever. Maggie parked, got out of the car, and walked to the family’s organic garden patch, where her mother, Ninette Doucet Crozat, was gathering vegetables. The family’s beloved Basset hound rescue, Gopher, was by her side. He was in his favorite position, head and torso resting on the ground, catching rays while the lower half of his body cooled off in a hole he’d dug—hence the name Gopher.

“Need some help, Mom?”

“I’m good,” Ninette said, pushing her baseball cap back to dab at a few drops of perspiration. Her tiny .gure dis­guised a will so strong that it had powered her through a bout of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her early twenties. “Your dad may need help, though. We had a few last-minute res­ervations come through. I think we’re finally full up for the week.”

“Excellent. I was getting worried.”

“We all were, honey. Now, why don’t you take this kale into the kitchen?”

Maggie took the basket of kale from Ninette and headed for the plantation kitchen, her steps lightened by the relief of a “No Vacancy” sign. Late summer bookings had been hurt by a national trend toward starting the school year in August rather than after Labor Day. But if there was one time of year that every hostelry in Pelican should be booked up, it was the week of Fet Let.

Louisiana abounded with festivals celebrating its unique blend of cultures. They ranged from New Orleans’s world-renowned JazzFest to Pelican’s Fete L’ete—Fet Let to Pelicaners—a casual event that honored the end of summer. Businesses and families set up stands around the town square where they sold crafts and fantastic homemade food made from recipes handed down through generations. Singers sang, fiddlers fiddled, and there was the requisite bounce house and petting zoo for the kids. To capitalize on the popular event, Maggie had suggested a Fet Let end-of-summer special, offering a discounted room rate plus breakfast, dinner, and happy hour for guests who booked August’s last full week. She was happy to see that her brain­storm had paid off.

She put the kale in the industrial- size refrigerator. Then she walked into the back parlor where her father, Thibaut “Tug” Crozat, worked at a computer housed in a nineteenth-century secretary. Grand-mère Crozat, clad in pale blue linen pants and a crisp white blouse, her soft gray hair meticulously coiffed as always, sat on a nearby wingback chair. She had an iPad with an attached keyboard perched on her lap.

“Are the reservations confirmed? Can I update our page?” Grand-mère asked her son. Gran’ had become the family social media maven, a poster girl for the computer-loving seniors who were chasing teens off Facebook.

“All confirmed. Update away, Mama.”

As Gran’ gleefully posted on the plantation’s Facebook page, Maggie peered over her father’s shoulder at his computer screen. Tug’s red-gold hair took on a metallic glint in the eve­ning’s setting sun. “What’s the breakdown?” she asked.

“Two couples, one of them honeymooners; some college boys here to fish; a single male; a family from Australia; and four women who are the executive board of a group called the Cajun Cuties, a national group of Cajun wannabes,” Tug said. “They usually meet at Belle Grove Plantation to plan the year’s activities, but Belle Grove’s guesthouse .ooded this morning and they rebooked them to us.”

“Thank you, Belle Grove’s antiquated plumbing,” Maggie said.

“Amen to that,” Tug seconded. “Should be an interesting week.”

Maggie and her dad shared a grin. Then she shuddered again.

Tug looked at her, concerned. “You okay?” he asked.

“Yes. I don’t know where that came from.”

“Oh, dear,” Gran’ said. She pursed her lips. “Shudders. That’s not good. Not good at all.” She made the sign of the cross and her son shook his head, amused.

“No need to get melodramatic. Right, Maggie?”

“Right.” Still, Maggie couldn’t help notice her father sur­reptitiously crossing himself as well. Tug was the Crozat least susceptible to local superstitions. Something had spooked him, which only made Maggie more nervous.

*

Later, as soon as Maggie finished a dinner that was heavy on kale, she drove into Pelican’s Historic Business Center—a lofty name for what was essentially a sleepy village. Its pictur­esque center featured four blocks of two-story buildings with wrought iron balconies that framed a town green, an unusual feature for the area and the pride of Pelican.

Maggie parked in front of two shops, Bon Bon Sweets and its sister store, Fais Dough Dough Patisserie. She grabbed some boxes from the Falcon’s backseat and walked through Bon Bon into the workroom that it shared with Fais Dough Dough. High school student Briana Poche, her brother Clinton, and a few friends sat at a table stuffing small gauze bags with various herbs, roots, and talismans. Super­vising them was Maggie’s cousin, Lia Tienne. Although Lia was seven years older than Maggie, the two had grown up together and were bonded like sisters. Lia’s late father was of Franco-African heritage, which had blessed her with café au lait coloring and the bone structure of Nefertiti. She was recognized as the Pelican town beauty, which mortified her.

Lia smiled when she saw Maggie, who put her boxes down on a workbench. “Hey. Whatcha got for me?”

“Mugs, plates, mostly,” Maggie said. She had started a small side business making souvenirs that featured her artis­tic take on local landmarks. Instead of the historically accu­rate but dull illustrations usually featured on such mementos, hers were bold and modern. They had yet to generate a profit, but she took comfort in the fact that at least she was break­ing even.

Lia reached into one of Maggie’s boxes and pulled out a black mug that featured a stylized white illustration of a dilapi­dated plantation. “Oooh, I love this.”

“My SOS series—Save Our Structures. A portion of sales go to the historical society so we can save the buildings that are falling apart.” She pointed to the cup in Lia’s hand. “That’s Grove Hall. If the Durands don’t do something with that place soon, there’s not gonna be anything left to save.” She then eyed the gift bag assembly. “What exactly are you doing?”

“A bride-to-be from Metairie ordered two hundred gris-gris bags for love as wedding favors.”

Maggie held up a silvery gauze bag imprinted with “Brent and Carolyn: A Magical Evening.” “What a great idea.”

“Yes, you’ll have to remember that,” Lia said, grinning.

Maggie shook a finger at her. “Nuh-uh. If my mother doesn’t get to nag me about marriage, you don’t either.”

Maggie joined the teens at the table, and Lia handed her a sharp knife and the ginger root. Maggie started chopping. As each bag was passed around the table, she dropped in a small piece of ginger as another love talisman.

“So, you have a full house?” Lia asked as she carefully packed up completed gris-gris bags.

“Happy to report, yes.” Maggie filled Lia in on the reserva­tions. Lia suddenly shuddered, and Maggie gasped. “You, too? The same thing happened to me. That’s so weird.”

“Something’s not right,” Lia said, shaking her head. “Just . . . not right.”

The kids at the table exchanged concerned looks. There wasn’t a generation in
Pelican that didn’t take stock in omens. “Or,” Maggie said, trying to lighten the mood. “Maybe you just shivered because I said that one of our guests was a single guy in his early forties. Just right for you, Leelee.”

Lia didn’t say a word. Instead, she focused on her task, pick­ing up speed as she packed the box. Maggie felt terrible. Lia’s husband Degas had succumbed to leukemia two years earlier. It was a brutal reminder of Plantation Alley’s other, darker nickname—Cancer Alley.

“I’m an idiot. I should have kept my stupid big mouth shut—”

“No, it’s okay. It’s . . . I’m not ready. Honestly, Maggie, I don’t know if I ever will be.”
Briana’s lip quivered and a tear fell on the gris-gris bag she was packing. “Oh, that bag is especially powerful now,” Lia told Briana as she gently laid a hand on the girl’s shoul­der. “You get to keep it.” Briana was about to burst into tears when Clinton, a chunky eleventh grader, let out a resounding Coke burp.

“Whoops. Sorry.”

Clinton’s belch broke the tension, and the kids burst into laughter. Lia took a seat next to Maggie and began filling gris-gris bags. She pulled a safety pin out of a box on the table and then took a tiny black bag that smelled like anise and pinned it inside Maggie’s tank top above her heart.

“Oh please, Lia. I am so not in the mood for love these days.”

“It’s not for love.”

Maggie, feeling uneasy, looked at her cousin. “Then what is it for?”

“Protection,” Lia said grimly. “From evil.”

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Plantation Shudders (Cajun Country Series #1) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written with great characters & cultural references. It was a fun & easy read. I look forward to the next book in September.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fun reading. Loved all characters in story. Awaiting next book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the setting, characters, and plot. Looking forward to the next book in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this,will read the next one. Love Grandma in this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
grandmareads102 More than 1 year ago
Plantation Shudders is a fast paced cozy with likesble characters that pull me into this mystery. I loved the historic setting. The Crozat Plantation is a beautiful bed and breakfast run by a family that loves it. Maggie has come home to help her family. She loves living here. If only a murderer wasn't among them. Ellen Byron's characters add spice to this suspenseful story. The people of Pelican add plenty of drama. I love how the dialogue sparkles and how the story has an unexpected twist with a good dash of humor. I'm looking forward to more books in this series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast paced whodunit set in Cajun country.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy, light read. Many characters so can be confusing.
Debb23 More than 1 year ago
Great start to a series, very enjoyable, I would actually give this a 4 1/2 star. This book starts off great when a couple drops dead, so I knew that I was in for an interesting read. I love the characters in this book Maggie is strong and independent with a touch of insecurity and a tendency to jump before looking which keeps her real. Her Gran I can't say enough good about, I absolutely loved her, she is unpredictable but not in an over the top way, she gave me many laugh out loud moments and turn around and be proper by correcting Maggie on her manners. My only drawback was Rufus who has a grudge against the family, I think that I'm just tired of the typical throw your weight around cop, but he does strike up feelings in you whether you like him or not. On the reverse side, his cousin, I love, a possible romance for Maggie who has a calm demeanor to offset her personality. The mystery was good and kept me guessing, I really had no clue as who it could be. It all tied together nicely. There is also the added bonus of some wonderful sounding recipes in the back. I will definitely continue on with this series.
ArizonaJo More than 1 year ago
Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron is the first book in her Cajun Country Mystery. I was hooked from the first chapter. The characters were well developed and the plot was smoothly paced. I liked Maggie most of the time and she "grew up" a little as the story developed. My favorite character is Maggie's grandmother. She was a quirky southern belle who I loved immediately. The twists kept me guessing and I had no idea who the culprit was until the reveal. I am looking forward to the next one in this series, BODY ON THE BAYOU, which comes out in September.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can't wait for the next