Friday, June 5, 2015

The Darling Dahlias & the Cucumber Tree: Review

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 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. ★★

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I like fluff. Especially in southern fiction.. .lol... Sounds like a good read when you want something light.
Great review!