Deadly Plum



Who could resist such pies? Who would even want to resist the pie shop that makes them? Certainly not the residents of Durham, North Carolina, and the little bakery and café called Pie in the Sky is one of the most popular meet-up places in town.

Unjustly accused of cooking the books, Maggie Grady is forced to retreat from her high-flying New York financial career to the town where she grew up. Her aunt Clara greets her with open arms and a job at the family-owned business that has baked the best pies in the South for over forty years. Unfortunately, while Maggie is determined to return to banking, her reputation there seems permanently in the pits. That is, until her old boss, Lou, visits with news that he’s found the real crook. Before he can reveal the details, though, Maggie finds his body right behind the pie shop.

With only her own word that Lou planned to exonerate her, Maggie is in the spotlight. The police seem to suspect that Aunt Clara’s damson pie may not be just dangerously delectable, but downright deadly. Maggie doesn’t just have her own name to clear; she has to make sure that her aunt’s beloved business isn’t harmed, either. Yummy local reporter Ryan Summerour appears eager to help, and Maggie can’t help hoping that it’s not just the police who find her a person of interest—but Ryan, as well. She’d thought it challenging to make the perfect pie crust that Aunt Clara demands, but that turns out to be nothing compared with finding a murderer. . . .


When New York banker Maggie Grady is fired from her job for allegedly embezzling from a client, she’s forced to return to North Carolina, move in with her Aunt Clara, and take a job in the family pie shop. It seems unlikely Maggie will ever work in finance again – that is, until her old boss Lou shows up on her doorstep, claiming to have uncovered evidence that will clear her name. Lou declines to give Maggie any details, but vows to tell all at a press conference the very next day; unfortunately, however, he’s murdered before he can make good on that promise. And as luck would have it, Maggie’s the one to find the body, landing her at the top of the police’s suspect list. Can she track down Lou’s killer and clear her name, or is she now destined to do time for two crimes she didn’t commit?
Plum Deadly is the first of Ellie Grant’s new Pie in the Sky Mysteries. I had relatively high hopes for this book –  pie plus murder! what’s not to love? – but unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.  The mystery’s solid, but that’s about all I can find to compliment. The setup is formulaic and predictable. The stakes are virtually non-existent (you never for a moment believe the cops actually think Maggie’s a killer), and what drama is there feels forced and manufactured. Grant puts zero effort into developing Durham as a setting. (Well, unless you count telling the reader over and over and OVER again that that’s where Duke University is located.) And the characters she’s created to populate her version of Durham are about as two-dimensional and caricature-ish as they come.

Judgmental, rude, and not just a little condescending, Maggie’s a rather unlikable heroine. Her relationship with Ryan the journalist springs out of nowhere and develops way too quickly to be plausible – especially given the utter lack of chemistry the two share. Weak, naïve, and bordering on stupid, Maggie’s Aunt Clara is an insult to aging people everywhere. Land developer Albert Mann is such an over-the-top villain, I’m a bit surprised Grant didn’t have him spend the book twirling his mustache. And the book’s token cop, Detective Frank Waters, cycles back and forth between cartoon villain and hero so frequently, it’s enough to give a reader whiplash.  (Oh, and did I mention that everyone in the book seems to have attended Duke? Because they did. The cop, the journalist, the aunt, the dead mother, the main character – EVERYONE. I’m not joking. I’ve never been to Durham, but I find it difficult to believe that everyone there attended the same college. A silly thing to get hung up on, perhaps, but it’s a detail that truly drove me nuts.)

Final Verdict: If you’re a fan of Jim and Joyce Lavene (the writers behind the Ellie Grant pseudonym), then go ahead and give Plum Deadly a read. If you’re not, though, I’d steer clear; life’s too short, and there are better pie-themed mysteries out there.  

Reviewed by Kat