Augusta Trobaugh's latest novel takes place in the small town of Tea-Olive, Georgia, where the local bird watching society consists of a group of five women, all close friends. One member, Love-Divine Brockett King, has just died and had bequeathed her estate to various groups in town. One notable group is the town library; coincidentally enough, a stranger comes to town, a retired judge from New York, who within days wins the town over and gets himself on the town council and the library board.
Beulah, who like most of the women in town is named after a church hymn (Beulah Land), is highly suspicious of this newcomer, especially when he seems to be making the moves on their dear friend Sweet (named for The Sweet By and By). Sweet, who has never married, sees this as her last chance at wedded bliss. But there are things that don't add up - the judge is now about to close down the library, claiming a town their size can't justify the cost. That really seems suspect because, as they all know, Love-Divine's will stipulates that if the library shuts down, all funds bequeathed to the library are to be diverted to the town council. Isn't that a coincidence that the judge happens to come to town at the right time and is able to get on the good side of nearly everyone in town (who happens to be on the town council and the library board)?
Beulah is very upset about the whole thing, but when Sweet comes home from her honeymoon with a huge bruise on her face, that is the last straw. Beulah wants to save her dear friend from an evil man, and with the help of another member of the bird watching society, Zion, she devises a plan to get rid of the judge - for good.
The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society reads like a cozy mystery, with the tone of the book taking the reader back to another time (although the story is definitely set in modern times) in a town where time has stood still. Residents complain about the threat of new shopping developments, freeways, and the like. Afternoon teas, bird watching, milking the cow... these are all everyday occurrences in the slow-paced town of Tea-Olive. The book’s simple prose calls forth a much simpler time, one that this town seems to be stuck in.
When Beulah and Zion set out to murder a retired judge, the book becomes a dark comedy as the two bumble their way through different plots and schemes. Zion is the brains behind the team, while Beulah is its conscience. And Sweet, the entire time, denies for the most part any abuse on the part of the good judge, a man who has fooled most of the town - but not Beulah.
The delightful The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society is a must for Augusta Trobaugh fans. I've read nearly all her books, and while this isn't my favorite, I think it will be one I'll remember for a long time.