Category Archives: Chatham


Judy Hogan. Farm Fresh and Fatal. Wethersfield, CT: Mainly Murder Press, 2013.

Farm Fresh and FatalRiverdell has a brand new farmers’ market, and Penny Weaver has jumped on board as a vendor. She and her neighbor Leroy Hassel are responsible for retailing the harvested crop at the market, but the actual farming is a neighborhood affair that involves several of Penny and her husband Kenneth’s friends and acquaintances. Penny, Leroy, and their crew might grow some beautiful produce and yield some lovely eggs, but they’re first-timers among all the veteran farmers with plenty to learn about market politics. Farming isn’t all sunshine and roses. Penny will be forced to get her hands soiled like the rest of the farmers, but she’ll be digging up more than dirt.

Penny’s decision to shoulder a substantial role with the market causes immediate tension with Kenneth, who is not happy to learn that the market will run until Thanksgiving, which will cut into their annual six-month sojourn to Wales (Kenneth’s homeland) by two months.  He’s also concerned that between her teaching and the market, Penny will overwork herself. Then there are the implications of racism. Penny learns from the market’s manager, Nora, that two of the board members voted against Sammie Hargrave joining the market on the grounds that Sammie is just a “backyard gardener” with her flower arrangements. But Penny suspects that the board members in question voted against Sammie out of uglier motivations.

The career farmers are off to a rocky start themselves. Many of the farmers dislike Giles Dunn’s genetically modified fruit and vegetables. Most of the male farmers can’t stop lusting after Abbie Kidd, daughter of Sibyl Kidd, the resident baker and jelly-maker. Sibyl refuses to compromise with the other farmers and throws tantrums when she does not get the front spot at the market. And nobody likes Kent Berryman, the meddlesome and leering poultry agent. Kent lingers around the market under the excuse that Andy Style, a local agricultural agent, hired him to take photos of the vendors. Kent takes pleasure in inserting himself into the farmers’ business and flirting with any and every woman around.

Just as it seems that the farmers might have come closer to resolving their differences, Kent winds up dead. Or, more specifically, murdered. The police believe that Kent was poisoned after drinking homemade punch at Nora’s stand, which makes Nora their prime suspect. Penny isn’t convinced that Nora was behind Kent’s murder. Sure Nora hated Kent, but so did most of the other farmers. Kent was a difficult man to like. Worse yet, the state of the market is in jeopardy. In light of Kent’s poisoning, the state agricultural department is already considering closing Riverdell’s farmers’ market. With Nora’s freedom and the market’s survival on the line, Penny and Sammie start sleuthing.

Farm Fresh and Fatal is novelist Judy Hogan’s second Penny Weaver mystery. Hogan writes a lively whodunit that will leave readers guessing the identity of the murderer to the very last chapter. The farmers’ market setting is particularly apt. Hogan is also a small farmer who resides in Moncure, North Carolina. She used to participate in the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market. Here in the Triangle, farmers’ markets seem to be enjoying an uptick in popularity. There are markets in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, and Raleigh. Quite a few of the cities and towns, like Raleigh, have multiple markets. If you’re local to North Carolina, you can search the NC Farm Fresh website to find markets near your home town. So go buy some farm fresh produce and then hunker down and tuck into Hogan’s intriguing novel. Or read about Hogan’s first Penny Weaver mystery in this blog post and learn more about Hogan herself in this article from The Daily Tar Heel.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Chatham, Hogan, Judy, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont

John Milliken Thompson. Love and Lament. New York: Random House, 2013.

Love and LamentDeath trails fast on the heels of the Hartsoe family. At age six, the youngest Hartsoe, Mary Bet, mistakes a circuit rider for the Devil. She cowers in the shadow of the Devil on horseback with hobnail boots and a black handlebar moustache. Soon after the encounter, Mary Bet’s eight other brother and sisters and her mother begin dying off, one by one, as if in a orchestrated funeral procession. Mary Bet believes that the Hartsoe family is cursed. But her generation and her father’s clutch to life during one of America’s more trying, transitional phases – Reconstruction.

Mary Bet’s father, Rezin Cicero, or R.C. for short, fought in the Civil War and wants to distance himself from the memories of battle. However, the constant reminder of his peg leg makes moving on a challenge. His miserly father, Samuel Hartsoe, withheld the family business from him. Samuel believes that R.C. should learn and labor to generate his own fortune. R.C. manages a general store and married one of William “Captain Billie” Murchison’s daughters, Susan Elizabeth. R.C. and Susan Elizabeth’s marriage tangles the family trees somewhat awkwardly. Samuel Hartsoe still feels lingering indignation that his father, John Siler, sold the Hartsoe family home to the drunken and vulgar Captain Billie rather than bequeathing it to him. As R.C.’s children and his wife die by a seeming string of dumb and simple misfortune, his faith flags. He rejects what others mourn as God’s will and he descends into madness. His youngest daughter, Mary Bet watches guiltily while R.C.’s body and mind decay. Love and Lament is a story concerned with the tension of family relationships, community exchanges, and constant hardships.

Meanwhile, Mary Bet, the story’s heroine, matures as the broken, war-torn South ushers in new industrialization and alterations in established values at the turn of the century. Mary Bet was born the year the railroad arrived in Haw County, a loosely fictionalized version of Chatham County. Mary Bet is a figure of the New South and a liminal character. She struggles to unshackle herself and move beyond the past. In her will, Mary Bet’s mother Susan Elizabeth deeds her jewels to her prettiest daughter, her silver to her most ambitious, and the family Bible to Mary Bet. Her mother’s gift appoints Mary Bet as the keeper of the Hartsoe family history. And fittingly so — Mary Bet is the only one of R.C. and Susan Elizabeth’s children to enter adulthood after all. From the rubble of the old world, Mary Bet emerges as a modern woman.

Novelist John Milliken Thompson spins a family saga rooted in the Southern Gothic tradition that spans from Reconstruction to World War I. The grief of the Hartsoe family echoes the changing climate of post-Civil War South. Thompson relates his story with mesmerizing and authentic detail that evokes great pathos for the Hartsoe clan. His rendering of Mary Bet from age six to age thirty rings true. With Mary Bet and the rest of the Hartsoes, Thompson accentuates how memory and history can haunt us, from the past long into the future.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Chatham, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Thompson, John Milliken

Katy Munger. Bad to the Bone. New York: Avon Books, 2000.

Casey Jones is doing well: despite being an (unfairly convicted) ex-con, she has established herself as one of the Triangle’s premiere, if unofficial, private investigators. But when Tawny Bledsoe walks through her door, she gets a bad feeling. At first, Casey attributes this to the fact that the pale, fragile-looking Tawny is black and blue all over, and claims that her ex-husband first beat her, then stole their four-year-old daughter. Ms. Bledsoe begs Casey to get her child back, and with her special interest in wronged women, Raleigh’s toughest cookie is on the case. However, Tawny’s story begins to look suspicious after Casey easily tracks down the ex, and instead of a wife-beating kidnapper, finds a reputable Wake County Commissioner and devoted father who is a respected member of the African-American community. When Tawny’s $1,000 check bounces, Casey is convinced she’s been had in a spiteful divorcée’s spat. But then Tawny’s current beau (a scummy car mechanic named Boomer) turns up murdered, and Casey knows there’s more to the situation than simple fraud. As the P.I. snoops around, she uncovers several unsavory parts of Tawny: the cocaine addict, the blackmailer, and the abusive parent. When Casey’s no-good ex-husband Jeff gets involved, things quickly move from bad to worse, and the gloves come off as Casey goes to all lengths to put Tawny behind bars where she belongs.

Fans of the feisty, self-starting Casey Jones will enjoy this adventure, in which the fallible but lovable heroine faces a type of villain she hasn’t encountered  before, as well as turmoil in her romantic life,  but also puts some old troubles to rest.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.


Filed under 2000, 2000-2009, Chatham, Durham, Munger, Katy, Mystery, Novels in Series, Piedmont, Wake

John Hart. Iron House. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011.

Michael knows how to kill, possibly better than anyone else alive. He dispatches his victims without emotion or drama, a virtue that makes him nearly invisible in New York City. He is the Old Man’s silent, deadly shadow. But before New York and the Old Man, there was Iron House.

A lifetime ago, he was a small but strong boy who protected his weaker, younger brother Julian at the Iron House Home for Boys in the Smoky Mountains. But one day something horrible happened, and 10-year-old Michael became a fugitive, fleeing into the snowy wilds of a North Carolina winter. He never saw his brother again, and just as he ran from Iron House, Michael also runs from his past. He is content to kill the dishonest and criminal, to be the Old Man’s strong right arm, to leave the boy he once was at Iron Mountain…until he meets Elena.

Carmen Elena Del Portal is more than just a woman; Michael suddenly finds that she is his whole life. When she finds herself pregnant, he knows he has to start over one more time. But the New York underworld won’t give him up so easily. The Old Man may wish for Michael to find a good life with a wonderful woman, but his henchmen are a different story. In no time Michael is on the run again, back to North Carolina and the brother whose existence he tried to protect by denying it. But if he thinks that life is simpler outside the Big Apple, he’s wrong. Dead wrong.

John Hart writes lovely prose, filled with a complicated cast of mobsters, lost boys, corrupt politicians, beautiful but mysterious ladies, and witches. Iron House looms over it all, a stark presence of which Michael, for all his running, may never be free. For an immensely entertaining, complex thriller, try Iron House!

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Buncombe, Chatham, Hart, John, Madison, Mountains, Piedmont, Suspense/Thriller

Nic Brown. Doubles. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2010.

“Slow” Smith put his doubles tennis career on hold when his beloved wife, Anne, fell into a coma a few months ago. Her condition is the result of a terrible car accident for which Slow feels great guilt. The brake pedal that he had installed earlier in the day failed, and he blames himself for the wreck and the death of their unborn child. When Manny, his old tennis coach, comes to Chapel Hill to coerce him into playing at Forest Hills, Slow is forced back into the game. He is also pushed to face some harsh realities about his most significant relationships.

In New York, Slow reunites with Kaz, his longtime doubles partner. Although they are masters at their sport, beating such greats as Federer and Agassi, they are little known because in the hierarchies of their sport. Slow and Kaz are doubles, not singles, players, and therefore enjoy little renown. Still, they want to keep a high ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) rank, so they must continue to win matches. During this tournament, Slow learns that Kaz and Anne had an affair months before the accident. With the knowledge of the indiscretion by his two most trusted friends, Slow is confused and bitter. When Anne wakes up eighteen months after the accident, he cannot ignore his feelings and requests a divorce. Although he and Anne eventually reconcile, Slow is forever haunted by the painful actions of the people he loves most. Nic Brown shows that relationships, like life, are fragile.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Brown, Nic, Chatham, Orange, Piedmont

Katy Munger. Bad Moon on the Rise. Jackson, WY: Thalia Press, 2009.

Casey Jones is at it again.  As an unlicensed private investigator (she cannot get her license because of a Florida prison stint), Casey is not half bad; she’s already solved a few murders in the Triangle.  When Corndog Sally, a Raleigh fixture, comes to Casey for help finding her daughter and grandson, Casey is more than happy to help.  As Casey sets off to find Tonya, Sally’s daughter (and a recovering addict), and Trey, Tonya’s fifteen year-old son, she finds out that the case will be more challenging than she’d expected: Casey finds Tonya, but she is dead, and Trey is nowhere to be found.

As Casey searches for Trey and for answers, she stumbles upon an illegal police operation in which guards at the Silver Top Detention Center (a fictional women’s prison in the mountains of western North Carolina where Tonya served time for drug-related charges) force paroled women to sell drugs.  Casey learns that Tonya refused to help the criminals in this enterprise and was murdered as a result.  With the help of a friend, Casey discovers the operation’s secluded location as well as Trey, a bright and athletic boy whom the renegade guards would like to groom for the business.  Casey must risk the safety of Trey, her friend, and herself in order to help Trey escape.  At last, Trey is returned to his family, and Casey is able to put an end to the manipulation of women such as Tonya.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Chatham, Durham, Mountains, Munger, Katy, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Suspense/Thriller, Wake

K. Allen Judge. The Road. Durham, NC: Laser Image Corporate Printing, 2007.

In this novel K. Allen Judge tackles the possible effects of road expansion on farming communities in North Carolina.  Judge tells of the changes that come to Chatham County as Highway 64 and Highway 15-501 are expanded from two to four lanes. The reader sees the expansions through the experiences of the fictional Beasley family, farmers in Chatham County. We learn about the family’s roots abroad and their life on the land through the centuries. As road construction continues, the Beasleys worry about more than just the loss of their land.  Some family members fear that their Quaker heritage will be lost to future generations. The author provides readers with a good sense of that heritage and its value.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2007, Chatham, Judge, K. Allen, Piedmont

Scott Morgan. The Big Fresh. Livingston, AL: Livingston Press, 2007.

Ruben (Ruby) Riggs is sent to Sunbridge Psychiatric and Rehabilitation Center in Siler City to recover his strength and his wits after he came apart following his wife’s death.  As Ruby heals, the mischievous and adventurous sides of his nature begin to reappear, but nothing prepares him for fellow patient John Carter, who claims to be Jesus Christ.  Carter arrived in Siler City about the same time that a large dark cloud settled over the town, giving more than one resident the sense that a crisis of biblical proportions is brewing.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2007, Chatham, Morgan, Scott, Piedmont

William Laurie Hill. The Master of the Red Buck and the Bay Doe. Charlotte, NC: Stone Publishing Co., 1913.

There is a lot going on in this novel set in North Carolina in the last years of the Revolutionary War. One plot line follows David Fanning as he leads Tory raiders in Chatham County. The second narrative thread concerns the lovely Polly Rutherford Scurlock who is sent from Chatham County to the safer venue of Guilford County, where she finds multiple suitors. The book weaves many historic events and figures into its plot.

Check this title’s availability and access an online copy through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library Catalog.

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Filed under 1910-1919, 1913, Chatham, Guilford, Hill, William Laurie, Historical, Novels to Read Online, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship

Laurence Naumoff. Silk Hope, N.C. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994.

The old farmhouse outside of the small Piedmont community of Silk Hope has passed down through generations from mother to daughter. The original occupants stipulated that only women could inherit the house. The current owners, Frannie and Natalie Vaughan, have just inherited the house and are faced with a tough decision. The sisters couldn’t be more different — Frannie is a rebel, the wild one in the family, while practical Natalie comes up with the idea to sell the house and land. As they struggle to decide what to do with the house, the sisters have to consider their own roles in the family’s history, and determine whether or not, in the modern South, women still need a sanctuary all their own.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC Library Catalog.

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1994, Chatham, Naumoff, Laurence, Piedmont