Iowa, Tractors and Cozy Murders

The husband and I drove out to the lake yesterday for our annual Fat Saturday deep fry where once a year the two of us, along with a few of the kids, grandkids and friends, spend several hours of a sunny mid-summer day paying homage to anything that can be breaded and cooked in the portable deep fat fryer. We also manage to drain several cans of cold beer and a bottle or two of cheap wine. But this isn’t about Fat Saturday. Or the greasy yet tasty food. Or the bubbly beverages. This is about the ride to the lake and soaking up all the scenery during the last warm blush of summer.

We live in Minnesota but I spent half of my life in Iowa and it’s there that my roots are planted. However, as far as scenery goes, there’s not much difference between southern Minnesota and southern Iowa. One looks remarkably like the other and as we drove along country roads past farm fields sprawling across the land, I looked out the window at acre after acre filled with tall, tasseled cornstalks and plump green soybean plants.  Oak, maple, birch and a myriad of other trees stood proud and tall, each spreading its full, leafy canopy like a peacock strutting his tail feathers for the ladies. Farmhouses—some old, some new—sat amidst grassy lawns and I could smell that sweet aroma of fresh mown grass and hay. We made our way past horses, cows and a few sheep, all safely grazing behind wire fences. Many farmsteads had neatly weeded gardens ripe with an abundance of fully mature, colorful veggies. We spotted a farm stand or two with sweet corn, cabbages, onions, summer squash, peppers and tomatoes for sale.

Varying hues of fragrant flowers and shrubs in full bloom were splashed liked watercolor brush strokes across the lawns and around the farmhouses. And I was struck as I always am this time of year by the absolute richness of it all, the so-very-greenness of corn and beans and grass and leaves that can only be found in the heartland during summer’s peak, right before she decides to loosen her grip on the season.

As one thought led to another I recalled an article I read a year or so ago about cozy mysteries and the Midwest. I don’t remember the writer’s name or very much about his article (serves him right) but I do remember his criticism that went something like this, and I paraphrase: Please deliver me from a cozy mystery set in Iowa with tractors and cornfields. He went on to say the whole idea of such stories is trite, which is what he thinks of the middle part of the country. Apparently crime amongst the tall corn of Iowa can’t hold a candle to crime amongst the tall skyscrapers of New York, at least in his opinion.  And he could be right.  I admit I can see the difference in a probable storyline.

New York: Murder is committed with a long, sharp switchblade knife, perp sneaks along the dark streets of the city, flags down a taxi and says, “Just drive,” until he reaches Big Lou’s Bar where he orders a double scotch on the rocks before disappearing among the crowd.

Iowa:  Murder is committed with a rusty, antique garden tool, perp sneaks through a chicken coop, jumps on a John Deere tractor and plows through the back forty before he reaches a corn field where he scares off a few hungry raccoons before disappearing among the stalks.

Still, if I could remember the writer’s name, I would invite him to visit the heartland during a week in mid-August.  How could he not be impressed with a leisurely trip to the lake, riding along country roads running beside fields of tall corn and hardy soybeans, past grassy lawns shaded by old oaks and maples, the scent of purple clover filling the air? I’m sure he would realize this is a pretty cool place and might even be an okay backdrop for a little cozy murder. As a matter of fact, I’d bet my tractor on it.

Best regards,



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