Murder in the Crooked Eye Brewery, by J.C. Eaton: Jealousy and Greed in a Small Town Microbrewery

Murder in the Crooked Eye Brewery ($16.95, 268 pages, 5×8 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-739-4) is a cozy mystery novel by J.C. Eaton and the first book in A Marcie Rayner Mystery series. Crime statistician turned investigative assistant, Marcie Rayner investigates the murder of a microbrewery owner in Biscay, Minnesota, and learns the victim may not be the nice guy everyone thought he was.

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“More satisfying than a stein full of ale on a sweltering summer day, Murder in the Crooked Eye Brewery is an absolutely delectable read. I loved hanging out with neophyte PI Marcie Rayner while she hunted down suspects, sifted out the red herrings, and fended off her interfering mother. With more twists and turns than an upside-down rollercoaster, this deftly-plotted mystery is a welcome addition to the female PI genre!”
—Linda Reilly, author of the Deep Fried Mysteries, and the Cat Lady Mysteries

Still kicking herself in the pants for ever getting married in the first place, twenty-something crime statistician Marcie Rayner does a turnaround. She divorces her philandering husband and trades her desk job in St. Paul, Minnesota, for a temporary role as an investigative assistant in New Ulm.

Never expecting her first case to come from her mother in Florida, Marcie finds herself ensconced in a full-blown murder investigation. The victim, forty-five-year-old microbrewery owner, Billy Hazlitt, is found shot to death on the floor of the Crooked Eye Brewery’s tank room in the nearby hamlet of Biscay.

And while Biscay doesn’t seem like the place where murder motives abound, its quirky residents, including two spinster sisters and the employees of the local diner, offer more obstacles than help. Marcie is convinced one of them is the killer. As she digs deeper into the case, she learns the victim may not be the nice guy everyone thought he was. Worse yet, the killer may be gunning for her as well.

Book One of the Marcie Rayner Mystery Series

J.C. Eaton is the penname for the collaborative writing team of Ann I. Goldfarb and James E. Clapp. While Ann is a seasoned author in her own right, having eight published YA time travel mysteries to her credit, James, a former winery tasting room manager, has focused on non-fiction with informative blurbs on the wine industry. This unlikely author duo found common ground when they moved to Arizona and realized that the community they were living in was the perfect background for murder mysteries. Ann admits that she’s definitely “the detail person” while James is more comfortable with plotline and the big ideas. Running the dialogue is their favorite pastime in this venture. For more information, look here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

By the time we left New Ulm and got onto the highway, Max and I had already shared all the information we had gleaned. It was pretty much the same stuff my mother had told me and that came from her conversation with Alice Davenport. What Alice didn’t know was that Billy Hazlitt was shot in the temple with a .357 magnum, his body lying all twisted up in front of one of the brite tanks used to chill and carbonate beer after fermentation. The sheriff said it looked as if someone tried to slide the body behind the tank but gave up.

The whole thing made no sense because it wasn’t as if the tank could conceal the body from view. According to Max, those tanks were tall and cylindrical. No way to hide a body. Apparently the sheriff ’s department was baffled, too.

“I can’t add much more to that.” I adjusted the seatbelt so it wouldn’t burn my neck. “Unless Billy’s ability to hurl a spitball somehow plays into all of this. Other than reiterating milestones in his life over the years, Alice Davenport wasn’t much help. She knew he had gone into the service as soon as he got out of high school and that he was married twice with no children. You don’t think it was a jealous ex-wife, do you?”

“Right now the field is wide open for speculation. It could’ve been anything from a robbery gone bad to an unbalanced girlfriend. Or, as you said, ‘a jealous former spouse.’ Not that it’s any of my business, but you’re over your ex, aren’t you?”

“Over and out. I can’t believe I was so naïve not to pick up on the clues sooner. He cheated right under my nose but I didn’t want to admit I saw the signs. Not a great reference for a neophyte investigator, huh?”

“It’s always tougher when it’s firsthand. Our minds are wired to ignore the evidence. Self-preservation and all that crapola. I’m sure there’s a fancy psychology term for it but I’ll be darned if it comes to mind.”

“Denial. I think the word is denial.”

“Well, nothing to deny as far as Billy Hazlitt’s death goes. We don’t have any personal ties that would cloud our thinking. And we’ve got a big advantage as far as sleuthing is concerned. Biscay is a really small town. A hundred people or so and, from what I know about small towns, someone is bound to talk.”

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