, Salem, MA

May 17, 2013

Book Notes: Cozy mystery is set on organic farm in Ipswich

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — A cozy mystery, as the name implies, is not disturbing to read.

“This is a subgenre, with the violence and sex all off the page,” said Edith Maxwell, who lived in Ipswich for five years before moving recently to Amesbury.

Which means that in her new cozy mystery, “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” we only see a corpse after the violent act that killed the character has taken place.

Another feature of cozy mysteries is their setting, which is usually narrow.

“They tend to be set in a small community, or around a quilt shop or herb shop,” Maxwell said.

In Maxwell’s case, the action takes place on an organic farm, and involves a farmer and several volunteers at a Community Supported Agriculture collective, or CSA.

“It’s set in Ipswich,” Maxwell said. “I changed the name to Ashford, but if you know Ipswich, you would recognize the town.”

Leaving out incidents that might make people uncomfortable means that cozy mysteries must rely on clever plots, rather than shock effect, to entertain.

One of the greatest of all mystery writers, Agatha Christie, wrote this type of story, Maxwell said, and the television program “Murder She Wrote” was also a cozy mystery.

Maxwell, who holds a doctorate in linguistics and briefly operated “a small certified organic farm” in West Newbury in the early ’90s, said her protagonist’s personal life is part of the story.

“The internal plot is that she was a software engineer who got laid off,” she said. “She never developed social skills. She’s a geek who’d rather be alone with her computers or her field, weeding and planting, and she has to talk to all of her volunteers and get more customers.”

“A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die” will be released May 28, and a launch party will be held at Jabberwocky Bookstore in Newburyport on Sunday, June 9, at 1 p.m., while the Newburyport Farmers’ Market is held in the parking lot outside.