Down the mountain from Sweet Pepper, Tennessee is Christmas Tree Valley, a place filled with hundreds of Christmas tree farms where generations of growers have made people’s lives brighter. Yet even here in this quiet, postcard-perfect corner of the world, darkness and murder can still stalk the night. Federal Wildlife Agent Bonnie Tuttle has always had a special gift with wild animals. It was one of the reasons she decided to train with the wildlife agency. She’s spent the last ten years in Alabama working, but her mother needs her home and she’s back despite all the bad parts of her life she hoped to leave behind. Her first day home begins with a fire on the island in Sweet Pepper Lake and the death of Harvey Shelton, the wildlife agent she’s supposed to replace. Bonnie manages to rescue dozens of animals from the fire – including a wolf pup that was shot with the same bullet that killed Harvey. Now she’s hot on the trail of Harvey’s killer and trying to reintegrate the wolf back into the wild even though he seems to want to stay with her. Yet old memories persist in the small community where she grew up, and the killer now seems to believe that she has what he killed Harvey for. All she has to do is figure out what that is before it’s too late.
Sissy: We’ve read so many fluffy holiday romances in the past six weeks that we are well and truly grateful for something different. Murder Fir Christmas is the first in a new series (Christmas Tree Valley Mysteries) and is a spin-off of the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mysteries, all set in rural Tennessee. The Christmas Tree Valley series features Federal Wildlife Agent Bonnie Tuttle, and she is so much more different and interesting than our more recent protagonists that I liked and admired her right off the bat.
Bubby: I love that fact that Bonnie and her family, as well as many other families in the valley actually do run Christmas tree farms. I can remember going out to a Christmas tree farm as a child and walking around the acres of towering pines until we found just the right tree. I wonder if there are any locally? That would be fun! Right from the beginning, you meet some very interesting characters that let you know that this is not going to be your run-of-the-mill murder mystery. Nope. We’ve got a strange little prophecy spewing Native American gentleman, plenty of Native American folklore, and a genuine ghost that the whole town accepts as real. There’s a plot twist with that ghost, too, but you know. Spoilers!
Sissy: You might call this a paranormal mystery but what warms and colors the story throughout is the mystical nature of Bonnie’s connection with wildlife, which is amazing. She doesn’t seem to have ever realized before that it was something out of the ordinary. The other remarkable thing about Murder Fir Christmas is that it is action packed from start to finish. There is seriously never a dull moment, whether in that moment you are feeling happiness, fear, intrigue, sadness, or myriad other emotions. And just so you know, Bubby, the last time we went and cut our own tree it was with our brother in the freezing middle of nowhere and we ended up with an ugly pinyon pine that he wanted to decorate with deer antlers. So as long as you’re talking civilized tree farms like those in Christmas Tree Valley, I’m in. Frozen tundra trees? I’m out.
Bubby: If I recall correctly, you donated your pine to somebody else and bought a replacement downtown. We were poor college students and couldn’t afford a tree, but ours wouldn’t stand up on its own. We had to tie it to a hook in the ceiling. Hey, at least we have good memories, right? I really felt connected to the characters in Murder Fir Christmas. I especially loved Bonnie’s mom – the quintessential country mom who bakes, makes pancakes for breakfast, probably quilts too. The fact that Bonnie’s mom struggles with the beginnings of Alzheimer’s is particularly poignant and gives us some great insight into Bonnie and her brother Eric. They love their mom so much that they are willing to give up their own lives and careers to care for her. I also fell completely in love with the little wolf pup that Bonnie rescues in the beginning of the book. I know that wolves are wild animals and not pet material, but he just sounded so cute. I may have to give in and let my family get a dog after all…
Sissy: Just not a wolf, unless you have turned into White Fawn (you’ll find out!) unexpectedly. Let’s talk about Matthew Brown Elk for a mo mo. When I first read the description of him I think I fell a teensy bit in love–Tall, broad, strong, tracking, Christmas tree farm owning Cherokee man hunk. And I love the way he boldly inserts himself into Bonnie’s life. It’s more of a flirtation than a full on romance, so I, for one, can’t wait to read what comes next. In fact, that was my biggest pet peeve about Murder Fir Christmas–you start reading and fall headlong into this non-stop adventure/mystery and then it ENDS. I want MORE!
Bubby: Me too! Hopefully it won’t be too long before book two is published. We’ll just have to wait until then. As always, Joyce and Jim Lavene have given us a great, unique, entertaining story that drew me in and made me ever so happy. The only drawback is that I need to go find that perfect Christmas tree now! Oh, I almost forgot! Scroll down to enter a giveaway for a $25 gift card from Amazon!
Click HERE to buy Murder Fir Christmas by Joyce and Jim Lavene
About The Authors –
Joyce and Jim Lavene write award-winning, bestselling mystery fiction as themselves, J.J. Cook, and Ellie Grant. They have written and published more than 70 novels for Harlequin, Berkley, Amazon, and Gallery Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. They live in rural North Carolina with their family.