A Beeline to Murder is the first in “The Henny Penny Farmette” mystery series by Meera Lester. The detective, Abigail Mackenzie, is a former police officer who retired due to an injury and took up beekeeping and raising vegetables on her little farmette outside of Los Flores. Although she enjoys the work on the farm, she still has the instincts of a detective—and needs money to keep the place going. So, when she finds local pastry chef Jean-Louise Bonheur dead in his kitchen, she observes the details, and when Jean-Louise’s handsome brother, Philippe, offers her a fee to investigate, she accepts.
A Beeline to Murder is a decidedly mixed bag. Lester’s basic premise is solid. She has created the ideal amateur detective: One who is outside the police force and yet legitimately knows enough to do the job. As a former police officer, Abigail knows the procedures, knows the rules, and has friends on the force to help with the details. This helps with the nagging question of “Why is this person so much better at the job than the local police?” Also, Abigail’s farmette helps round out her character and provides a lovely backdrop. The business side is also perfect for sending her in to trouble—here in her own town, and potentially to other areas in future books.
The book also has significant drawbacks. The biggest is that the story is drowning in detail. Descriptions of the crime scene are, of course, necessary, and the farmette is a part of who Abigail is. But, do we really need to know that in order to answer her phone, Abigail removes her glove, retrieves the phone from her pocket, and swipes her hand across the screen? Does Lester really have to list every item Abigail passes in her friend’s living room on the way to the kitchen? Some detail adds to the charm, too much becomes clutter, and Beeline is well into the clutter territory.
Philippe Bonheur becomes another difficulty. A little romance can add spice to any cozy. Unfortunately, the relationship between Philippe and Abigail never really moves past liking the smell of his cologne and going weak-kneed phase. He’s handsome, flirts with everyone, sprinkles his conversation with French phrases (the way handsome French men invariably do, at least in books), and—that’s it. There is no real indication of any sort of compatibility past this or any sense of why he finds Abigail attractive. If half a book is going to be spent on a romance, I want more.
A Beeline to Murder has a promising premise and future books may iron out some of the difficulties, but it is not a book I would put on the must-read list.