The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree is the first book in Susan Wittig Albert's historical mystery series set in the Alabama of the 1930s. The DaThe Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree is the first book in Susan Wittig Albert's historical mystery series set in the Alabama of the 1930s. The Dahlias are the local garden club--a group of mostly middle-aged southern ladies determined to make the best of things even though the Great Depression has its grip on the country. They have just recently inherited the home of Dahlia Blackstone and made it their new clubhouse as well as adopting Mrs. Blackstone's first name for their garden club. Mrs. Blackstone's nephew was a bit miffed when the the will was ready. His wife had already picked out curtains and he was counting the money from the sale of their previous home.
The ladies have barely moved into the clubhouse before folks begin seeing the fabled Cartwright ghost (one of Mrs. Blackstone's relatives) wandering about the attached garden, spade in hand. Rumors say that Cornelia Cartwright is searching for her baby's coffin....or her baby's shoes...or maybe even the Cartwright family silver which was supposed to be hidden from the Yankees during the War Between the States. And it looks like the passing of her descendent has caused Cornelia to walk again. But that isn't the only disturbance in the town of Darling, Alabama. There is an escaped prisoner in the area, trouble at the local bank, a stolen car, and the murder of the beautiful Bunny Scott.
When the sheriff tries to pass Bunny's death off as an accident and to fasten the bank's troubles on a bank teller who is a friend of the Dahlias, the garden club ladies decide to do a bit of detecting of their own. They hunt down clues and talk to suspects and, since they're Southern ladies, they manage to do it without breaking a sweat or having a hair out of place. Given the time and place in which this is set, the men are a bit condescending and the ladies don't buck the system--when they finally put all the pieces together, they ask a lawyer (the boss of one of them) to take the evidence to the sheriff because they know full well that he won't take them seriously.
This is a very slow-moving, fluffy book. Lots of descriptions of gardens and houses and who is related to whom. A run-down of all the flowers in the gardens. A full menu of various foods through-out. And...well, another reason the ladies don't break a sweat while detecting is that they don't do a whole lot of it. Clues tend to fall into their laps and every person they talk to answers all their questions without batting an eye. If we took out all the extras and the book was straight detection only, the story would be about two and a half chapters long. The clues are all there and the solutions to the various problems shouldn't come as a major surprise--especially the "mystery" of the ghost.
That said, Albert does know how to write a historical novel. The pacing is perfect for the Depression-era South. And her details really give a good impression of the time period. The Dahlias are very believable characters and it was a lot of fun meeting them. Overall, a nice pleasant read--just don't expect an intricate puzzle plot. ★★★
Participants at the summer music school at Falconbury plunge into their work with a little Wagnerand a symphony by Sibelius...little do they know thatParticipants at the summer music school at Falconbury plunge into their work with a little Wagnerand a symphony by Sibelius...little do they know that they ought to be playing a requiem.
The music school takes place in the country, but students come from all over--including the Royal School of Music in London. The conductor is disconcerted when Derek Fox (his student leader) and Belinda Power, the percussionist, fail to appear for the initial session. Derek then slips in just in time for the first musical pieces, but there is still no sign of his fiancée Belinda. The orchestra goes on without her, but Mr. Hanington, the conductor, is not at all satisfied with her replacement--reading him the riot act for not coming in on his part. When Godfrey Farre, the unlucky percussionist, insists that he had done his part properly and that something seemed to be wrong with the timpani, an inspection of the instruments seems to be in order. When they remove the head they find that there is something wrong with drum--something very wrong indeed.
Godfrey lifted his stick and brought it down on the largest of the three timpani. A curious dead sound came from it, as if a pile of leather had been struck. The whole orchestra turned and stared at him...
Stashed inside the largest drum is the body of a young woman who is immediately identified as Belinda Fox.
Inspector Fitch and Superintendent Mitchell immediately suspect the boyfriend when they learn that the young lovers often had disagreements. Derek turns to Dr. David Wintringham--Bell's leading gentleman sleuth--a medical man with a penchant for solving crimes. But Derek does little to help his own cause, giving Wintringham little information to back up his plea of innocence. The good doctor is forced to look for other suspects on his own. Fortunately, for Derek, there are several likely candidates--from the conductor who wanted to marry Belinda himself to the member of the Royal School of Music who had a sharp disagreement with her back in London to the aunt who would inherit upon her death to a roommate who may have had cause to want an apartment all to herself.
The first thing Wintringham must discover is what in the world in Derek hiding? And who is the killer if Derek is innocent?
This mystery doesn't lack for clues. In fact, I think perhaps Bell sprinkled them a bit too liberally and/or obviously about. It wasn't difficult to figure out who did it and why. The plot is fine and the characters are well done. It was interesting to visit a British summer music school and the Royal School of Music, so the setting was good as well. But this winds up being a very middle of the road book for me. If I hadn't spotted the solution well before the end of the book, this would might have collected four stars, but as it is-- ★★★
Just not a fan of the "Had I But Known School." So, I know, why did I buy it and read it? Because I'm a book-aholic and can't resist a first edition pJust not a fan of the "Had I But Known School." So, I know, why did I buy it and read it? Because I'm a book-aholic and can't resist a first edition pocket size mystery. ...more