dinsdag 1 maart 2011

Susan Wittig Albert - The Darling Dahlia’s and the Cucumber Tree

The first book in the Darling Dahlias series, published in July 2010.

Cucumber Tree

From the national bestselling author of the China Bayles mysteries- a brand-new series about some spunky lady sleuths in Depression-era Alabama.

The country may be struggling through the Great Depression, but the ladies of Darling, Alabama, are determined to keep their chins up. Their garden club-The Darling Dahlias-has a clubhouse, a garden, a flag, and a weekly column in The Darling Dispatch written by their own Miss Elizabeth Lacy. Unlike their snooty rivals-Sisters of the Spade- they welcome members from across the social spectrum. What better way to know everything there is to know about everyone in town?

But when a treasure trove of sterling silver is found buried under the town's famous Cucumber Tree, two of the Dahlias claim ownership, which leads to some very unladylike behaviour. And the unpleasant discovery of an unknown young woman's body on a hill outside of town points to even worse behaviour. If anyone can get to the root of these mysteries, it's the Darling Dahlias.

I am still waiting for the paperback to be issued, so I read the e-book. Unfortunately, I cannot find another blurb for this book, as it is totally wrong. Doesn’t have much connection to the story in the book. So, just ignore it please, and read my recapitulation.

The story begins in the new clubhouse of the Darling Dahlia’s, a woman’s gardening club in Darling, Alabama in 1930. Their oldest club member has died, and left her house and gardens to the club, to everyone’s surprise. Especially that of her nephew by marriage, who was expecting the lot. The taxes are already paid for the next few years, but they need money to fix the roof, and fast! But times are hard on everyone, so there is no easy solution in sight.
The club has 12 members at the moment, varying in ages and professions. The war between the States, as well as the first World War are fresh in everyone’s memory.
The ladies keep house, tend their gardens and their husbands, go to church, and they gossip. The telephone lines are called party lines, as there are several houses on one line, so all the neighbours can listen in if they want to. Which makes gossip fly across town faster than a person can walk it.

It took some time to get to know all the different ladies, but the most important ones have their own chapter in the book. Most cozy mysteries have one or perhaps two main characters, this book has many more.

Lizzy, secretary to Mr. Moseley, attorney at law, Verna, who runs the probate office and several other ladies are used to having lunch together in the shade of a tree at the town square. One of them is Bunny, a young lady who works at the local drugstore at the makeup counter. She really wants to leave Darling, and find herself some rich man in a big city who can show her a good time.

Time goes slowly in Darling, but then one day there is a prison break, and the whole town is in uproar. One of the convicts is apprehended quickly, but the other one stays free. Then the next Saturday, Lizzy’s beau finds a crashed car and a dead woman beneath it. He comes to find Lizzy as he wants to borrow her camera for the journalist downstairs, so he can take pictures for the paper, but Lizzy insists on coming too. Maybe she knows the woman. After a lot of arguing, she gets her wish. And is horrified when she recognises the young Bunny. Yes, she was a bit wild and flirty, but she would never have stolen a car or get drunk! But the sheriff thinks otherwise, and thinks the case is closed.
Until the doctor finds out during the autopsy that Bunny was shot, and that killed her. Also, the car wasn’t running when it drove down the hill. So it has to be murder, but who could have done it? The convict that still hasn’t been captured? Or one of Bunny’s admirers?
Verna and Lizzy and some of the other Dahlia’s are going to find out!
And then there is the town’s bank, that is in trouble. People are getting their savings out of it, and there is talk of embezzling. Alice Ann Walker, another Dahlia, and one of the two bank tellers is blamed for it. She has the care of her disabled husband Walter, and surely could use the money. But she didn’t do it, and now they have to find another suspect so Alice Ann won’t be fired.
And what about the third mystery, someone is dressing up as the Cartwright ghost, and digging holes in the garden. Who is doing that, and why? Mrs. Bessie Bloodworth owns the boardinghouse next door, and at night she and her boarders are wakened by the sounds of digging. And this time, she will confront the ghost, with her husband’s old duckshooting gun loaded and ready in her hands …

I did like the book, it is a nice change of pace. Every day life is slow, even though most of the women have a car, and some even domestic help.
The mystery part is not so difficult to solve, but to meet all those women and get acquainted with that time period was very nice. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

7 stars

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