Wealthy old Auguste Caspar Snellen, the legendary Pea King, is long gone, but his greatest legacy lives on: the Snellen Museum, an institution dedicated to the glorification of local lore and legumes. But at this years annual Pea Festival, the museum sustains a terrible loss when its able, innovative director, Regina Price Palmer, is shot to death during a noisy reenactment of a Civil War battle.
Suburban single mom Jane Jeffrey was a costumed participant in the deadly pageant. Now her part-time work at the museum has put Jane and best friend Shelley Nowack in the midst of a veritable podful of murder suspects. And its up to Jane and Shelley to determine who fatally beaned poor Reginabefore another victim is planted six feet under.
About the Author
Jill Churchill has won the Agatha and Macavity Mystery Readers awards and was nominated for an Anthony Award for her bestselling Jane Jeffry series. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed Grace and Favor mysteries and lives in the Midwest.
Read an Excerpt
According to the brochure that was being handed out after the reenactment, Auguste Caspar Snellen had come from Alsace-Lorraine to the Chicago area as an ambitious boy of twenty in 1875. Just north of the city, he'd claimed a large parcel of land that turned out to be one of those microclimates that were sensational for growing peas. He'd tried potatoes first, but they rotted. Rutabagas grew well, but nobody wanted them. Corn withered on the stalk. But when he tried his hands at peas, they flourished as if by magic. Being of an amateur scientific bent, Auguste started importing other varieties of peas. They turned to gold. Rather than selling the peas as food, he sold them as seed all over the country. He built a little laboratory and green house and developed new strains. By the time he was fifty, Auguste Snellen was the "Pea King" and a very wealthy man.
In 1907, he used some of his wealth to endow a museum, which was named for him. He'd originally wanted the museum to be filled solely with exhibits having to do with the history and significance of peas, which he found endlessly fascinating, but he was finally persuaded that other agricultural (and eventually domestic) pursuits were also fit subjects for museum exhibits.
Auguste Snellen was responsible for the county's Pea Festival, which had taken place every August (no coincidence, that) since 1927 except in 1945, when everybody was too busy celebrating the end of the war; and in 1964, when a tornado ripped through the fairgrounds the afternoon before the opening of the festival and scattered jellies, afghans, flower exhibits, farm implements, and a few startled piglets far and wide.
The Snellen Museum always had a "presence"at the Pea Festival, but for years it was usually a single booth with a few dusty artifacts and boring hand-labeled signs inviting people to visit the museum to see more of the same. But ten years earlier, there had been a change. The booth was enlarged, and the exhibits grew more interesting and more professionally presented. This was because of Regina Price Palmer, the then very young woman who had been appointed director of the Snellen Museum, and Lisa Ouigley, the publicity director Regina had urged the board to hire.
The women were a perfect pair, united in their vision of the Snellen's future. And this year the Snellen Museum, under their guidance, had promoted itself in a big way at the Pea Festival. They'd rented a huge tent, put together a truly impressive exhibit, including a real sod house, and done an enormous amount of advance advertising for the Civil War reenactments they were sponsoring ("BE A PART OF YOUR OWN HISTORYEVERY DAY AT 10 A.M. AND 2 P.M. ).
Jane fanned herself with the brochure and looked longingly at an empty lawn chair in a shady spot under a maple tree near the edge of the field. Surely its owner wouldn't mind letting a hot, sweaty, itchy reenactor sit down for a minute or two. If she snagged the empty chair, however, she wouldn't be able to go find a cold drink, but if she went for a drink first, the lawn chair might become occupied. Funny how her brain didn't quite work in the heat. How on earth had women survived summer in this kind of garb?
"Jane, that was great," Mel VanDyne said from behind her.
"Oh, Mel! Thank God! I can sit down. Would you please, please get me something cold to drink? And maybe a bucket of ice water to slosh over me while you're at it?"
She flung herself into the chair and watched as he walked away. Mel was her "significant other" (a term she'd reluctantly adopted because her teenage daughter, Katie, thought it was inappropriate for a mother to have a "boyfriend"). He was also a detective, but at the moment, he was merely the object of all her gratitude. While she waited, trying not to pant, she glanced around for Shelley, who had disappeared and was probably hiding from her. And well she should. Shelley had volunteered the two of them, not only for the reenactment, but for a couple weeks' worth of time at the museum.
Mel returned with a huge plastic cup full of lemonade and another of ice water. Jane knocked back a few big swallows of the lemonade in a most unladylike way, then fished an ice cube out of the water to rub on her neck.
"I don't think you'd have been suited to the pioneer life," Mel said mildly, watching her make a dripping mess of herself.
"It was nice of you to come out and watch. What are those people doing, staying out in the field?" she added. A group of soldiers and the women who had been behind her and Shelley during the early part of the reenactment were huddled in a knot. Some were kneeling.
Mel looked in that direction for a minute; then Jane noticed him stand a little straighter.
"I think there's something wrong," he said quietly.
Jane stood up and could see that there was someone or something lying on the ground. "Uh-oh. Do you think someone really did have a heat stroke?"
As she spoke, one of the women in the group suddenly broke away and started running toward them. She was tearing along at full tilt and as she got near where Jane and Mel were standing, she tripped over her skirts. Mel grabbed her to break her fall.
"I have to call an ambulance!" she cried.
"Sit down here before you collapse," Mel said, leading her to the chair Jane had abandoned. "I'll call for you." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a mobile phone Jane hadn't known he was carrying.
"What happened?" Jane asked.
The woman, clad in the same kind of heavy, hot garments Jane was wearing, was red-faced and gulping for breath. "It's Ms. Palmer. I think she's dead!"
"Oh, no!" Jane exclaimed. "Surely she just fainted from the heat!"
"No!" The younger woman was sobbing now. "No, she's been shot!"
Copyright ) 1996 by The Janice Young Brooks Trust
Table of Contents