Sunday, May 14, 2006

Editorial: Garden Whodunits Need to Get Details Right

Linda Brazill of the Madison (WI) Capitol Times recently took a critical look at gardening mysteries, and concluded that several came up a bit short, horticulturally speaking.

"Gardens seem like the perfect setting for mysteries.", she writes. "There are any number of poisonous plants, like foxglove and monkshood, that make ideal murder weapons to say nothing of deadly cocktails conjured up to kill weeds. There are mazes to hide in, borders to bury the body in, and an endless supply of historical allusions and poetic inspiration."

She adds that three recent horticultural whodunits all have something to recommend them but none of them quite made a compelling argument for setting their stories in gardens.

Of the three books mentioned, Brazill notes that in Susan Wittig Albert's most recent mystery, Bleeding Hearts with China Bayles, she gets all the garden and herb information correct. In addition, "The very last pages [of the book] contain the lovely lemony recipes that China's catering crew made during the course of the story."

Anthony Eglin's second English Garden mystery, The Lost Gardens, is more problematic. She notes that, "On a visit to the famed English garden Hidcote Manor to show the American homeowner what a grand estate garden looks like, our sleuth points out cherry trees, cannas, oriental poppies and skunk cabbage all apparently blooming at the same time. I don't believe that even the Brits could manage that gardening sleight of hand."

Finally, Brazill looked at Carol Goodman's The Ghost Orchid. She found that the sense of the garden and the detail and description of it overwhelmed the characters. Goodman's earlier mysteries were complex but not confusing, a critical distinction and one that mars The Ghost Orchid. In short, "A glorious mix if a bit of a mess."

Read the entire article, as published on, here.

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