Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Said With Flowers

Said With Flowers (1943) by Anne Nash

'Twas the week before Christmas when all through the flower shop....there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth. Dodo (Doris) Trent and her partner Nell Witter are in such a pickle. Their deliveryman has fallen and broken his leg. How will they ever survive the Christmas flower rush? As Dodo (our narrator) puts it

Under the happiest conditions a florist's shop at Christmas is nothing more nor less than a madhouse. I've never discovered a way to avoid it. People leave flowers, plants, and decorations till the last minute. Then they storm in frantically. They say it with flowers to all those whom they'd forgotten earlier  or to the ones left on their lists for whom they couldn't think of anything better.

The ladies have no idea how they will meet the rush and get everything delivered on time. And then, in walks Barney Miller. 

Who is Barney Miller? No one knows. He's a stranger in town. He claims to be a writer who is checking out the area. And he just happens to know plants and flowers. Nell and Dodo have a brief moment of worry--after all there is that dreadful Karp Killer on the loose, what if Barney is the Killer. But they promptly shake off any misgivings when they see what a nice way he has with the customers and how quickly he can put together a festive flower box. He hustles and bustles around the shop, taking orders and placating their pickiest clientele like he was born to the job and then zooms out to deliver all the goods. It looks like Santa Claus has given them their Christmas present early.

Their worries return, however, when one of their dearest friends is found murdered in the alley behind their shop. She's been stabbed with one of their pruning knives, but on her body is pinned the Karp's calling card--a hand-drawn picture of a fish. Could they have hired a killer? The odd thing is that the Karp seems to have broken his own rules for killing. All of his victims so far have been young and beautiful; and he would hide the bodies so there would be a delay before the murder was discovered. Rosalind Vance is a middle-aged woman. She isn't ugly by any means, but the bloom was definitely off her beauty. Why has the Karp gone of his script?

Or, more alarmingly, what if the Karp isn't responsible? Who in the small town of Pinehurst could have had reason to kill Rosalind? As far as Dodo and Nell know, their friend had no enemies. When Mark Tudor, a detective, arrives on the scene with his specially trained dog Svea, they join forces and try to figure out who killed Rosalind. Was it the Karp? Was it Barney...and is he the Karp in disguise? Was it Rosalind's younger sister? Sheila has been hiding something from Rosalind. Was it a secret worth killing for? Is it possible that Rosalind's perfect marriage with her husband James wasn't all that perfect after all and he is the culprit? Or maybe it was Jenny--Rosalind's long-time friend and supposedly devoted companion. But Dodo thinks she sees guilt and fury in Jenny's eyes. Of course, Dodo has worked herself into such a state that she's jumping at shadows and suspecting everyone. 

This is a fun little mystery. Very nice small-town atmosphere in what seems to be an early version of the current cozy craze for mysteries set in bakeries and bookshops and what-have-you. Dodo does get on the nerves a bit with her foreshadowing and borderline hysteria, but fortunately her fiery tempered friend Nell is on hand to liven things up and keep things from getting to be too much "Had I But Known." I spotted the killer straight away and even sussed out the motive, but that didn't spoil my enjoyment. It's not a deep puzzle, but it's a quick read and definitely worth time. ★★ and 1/2.

For a much more in-depth look at the book, please see John's review from 2016 over at Pretty Sinister Books

Quotes (don't read the last one if you don't want a spoiler)

[First Lines] The tragic affair ended at last. Excitement simmered down, life got back to normal, and then everyone began hounding us to write about the events.

Good. Intellectual processes--so called-- often enough block our intuitions, hunches, whatever. Let's hope in our present passive state we'll be receptive to any flashes of insight that might be lurking about. (Mark Tudor; p. 73)

Detach yourself from the personal element; this case is merely a problem to solve. Not for our own personal satisfaction, but for the possible safety of numbers. At this point we don't know what's important, what's insignificant; we'll have to assemble every scrap of material available, then sift and discard.

[Last Lines] "I used to think Jenny was so--so sort of--unapproachable. But now I know how grand she is...I'm going to be as faithful to you, Barney, all of my life...as Jenny was to Rosalind." [Sheila] A high note on which to end.

Deaths = 2 (one stabbed; one fell off cliff)
Murder Mystery Bingo: Alley; Store (flower shop); Nonbarking dog; Mysterious stranger; Knife

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