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Our recent travels took us to the Low Country of the Carolinas – Craven County, South Carolina, to be exact. It’s common knowledge that Low Country seafood is straight up delicious, but we had not realized that pecans are a fairly big deal there as well.
We drove around a bit, exploring the area, and after one long stretch of fencing, passed a large gated entrance to a grove of pecan trees: STERLING BANKS. Sadly, it was closed to the public. Oh, well, no pecan grove tour or pecan store for us. But, dessert centered mind that I have, I now had a yen for pecan pie, or cobbler, or butter pecan ice cream. Sheila mentioned that she was suddenly hungry, so the search was on for a place to eat.
Do you like diners? Or pubs? Or bars? We definitely do. Turns out that Craven County is home to Jackson Hole, diner by day, and pub/bar by night. We pulled into the nearly full parking lot, always a good indication mid-week that the food is good. The waitress seated us near the back and we checked out the menu. The usual diner fare of meatloaf, burgers, fries, shakes, and …. Bingo! Pecan desserts of every kind I’d ever heard of and some I hadn’t. I grinned when the waitress returned to get our order. I tapped on the dessert section, then asked if the pecans came from the grove up the road.
“Yes, sir. Fresh as yesterday’s crop.” She smiled and turned a bit to point with her pencil at a woman seated a couple of booths away. “She’s the new owner of the farm. Quinn Sterling.”
This trip just got even more interesting. You know how Sheila and I keep running into detectives on the road? I couldn’t resist. “She doesn’t happen to be a detective, does she?” laughing as I said it.
Talk about jaws dropping. With hands on both hips, the waitress gaped and said, “How could you possibly know that?”
Both Sheila and I nearly sprayed her with the sweet tea we had been drinking. “Wild guess! Plus, I’m law enforcement – on medical leave – and I can usually spot people in my line of work.”
“Technically, she’s a P.I., but would you like to meet her? Sometimes she meets clients right in that booth at night, but she’s only here for lunch today.”
The waitress went over to Sterling and they exchanged whispers and glances at us. Then the waitress passed along an invitation for us to join the pecan farm owner/P.I. We introduced ourselves and settled into the large leather covered booth, more than ready to hear her story.
“Quinn Sterling is a lanky, towering red-head, and heiress to Craven County’s 3,000-acre pecan enterprise, Sterling Banks . . . the last heir of the oldest family of the oldest county in the state of South Carolina . . . and a private investigator. She wouldn’t have been either if someone hadn’t murdered her father.
She never envisioned becoming a PI. As a teen, she and her childhood friend, Tyson, imagined working as deputies for her sheriff uncle, solving fictitious crime amongst the pecan groves, sometimes with burlap capes, sometimes with stick guns, using the nuts as bullets. Then for a year out of high school, they fulfilled their dreams by joining the sheriff’s office, with grand aspirations of keeping the county free of sordid characters. But her father, Graham, had bigger plans for his daughter, and pushed her to college where she held dual majors of business and criminal justice, the latter to spite him. When the FBI snatched her up, Quinn thought she’d gone to heaven.
Then came the call. Someone killed her father and almost killed Jule, the farm’s caretaker and mother-figure to Quinn. In the blur of funeral and the slow reality of inheriting the pecan enterprise, Quinn came face-to-face with a new reality. Her uncle admitted he couldn’t find the murderer, had no idea whom to suspect, and Quinn was suddenly running the farm. Unable to let loose of her father’s unsolved murder, Quinn left the Bureau to manage Sterling Banks, doing PI work on the side to scratch that itch.
Six years after Graham’s death, the murder remained a mystery, Quinn’s relationship with her uncle a raw sore. Then a fellow PI was found murdered in Craven County, and the daughter of a Charleston real estate mogul hired her to take his place hunting for her missing beau.
Nobody was who they appeared to be, but Craven is Quinn’s county, and with an inept uncle at the helm, Quinn felt the responsibility was hers to solve the case. But when the case crossed onto Sterling Banks, it sucked in both of her childhood friends, Deputy Tyson Jackson and Jules’ son Jonah Proveaux, the current pecan farm caretaker. Quinn drew deeply upon her legacy and her training, to dig into crimes current and past, sometimes capitalizing on her uncle and the financial, historical, and impressive power of the Sterling Banks name to discover why people had been Murdered in Craven.
In another case, Quinn learned just how toxic school board politics could be, when she was hired by a board member to deal with domestic issues, and dealings with the Board got nasty. An impromptu drop-in at a board meeting threw Quinn for a loop when she found Sterling Banks’ foreman, Jonah Proveaux, battling against them over land for an elementary school. Land of an 80-year-old neighbor that adjoined Quinn’s farm.
Politics quickly turned to greed, greed to arson, and arson to murder, with family pitted against family, neighbor against neighbor, as property Burned in Craven. When violence escalated against her and her own, Quinn decided she knew more than the law when it came to finding answers and making people pay, and she took actions accordingly. The county turned divisive over how much development was good development, and how much is plain crooked and deadly.”
Sheila and I sat riveted to our seats long after the last bite of pie and ice cream disappeared. What stories that woman could tell!
But, to find out who did what to whom and why, you’ll have to read the books. 😉
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