Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dragonwell Dead - Laura Childs

Dragonwell Dead
A Tea Shop Mystery
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime


Springtime in Charleston means the annual Plantation Ramble. Private homes open their gardens to the local Garden Club and anyone who cares to spend time in the abundance of nature. In addition to tours, there’s the flower show and a rare plant auction. Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop, is there providing iced tea to thirsty attendees. Today they’re serving Dragonwell tea, a special blend concocted by Drayton, the shop’s master tea blender, adorned with mint sprigs, lemon, or edible flowers.

Drayton is there for the plant auction, too. He’s an orchid enthusiast and hopes to be able to win the bidding on a rare species. He soon learns that he’s bidding against not only the local rare book dealer, Harlan Noble, but against Mark Congdon, a broker who left Chicago to open and bed-and-breakfast place with his wife. Drayton drops out when the bidding gets too rich, and Mark, a fellow enthusiast, wins the orchid. Harlan is notably angry at this development. After the auction, Mark, his wife, Theo, and Drayton return to the tea table they left unattended while watching the auction. Mark is first to take a drink of the sweet tea. He cries out in pain, and falls to the ground in convulsions. The medical report lists “unspecified toxin” as the mode of death. Theo knows that means poison. And the last thing Mark ingested was the tea.

Each new installment of this series is as engrossing as the last. Theo is a wonderful, realistic character, making a go of a gourmet tea shop in an upscale area of Charleston. Her friendships with Drayton and Haley, the baker, are imbued with a genuine warmth and realness. In this case, there are plenty of suspects. The more Theo finds out about Mark and his brokerage firm, the more she realizes that the easygoing guy had some serious competitors. There’s also the assistant with the unrequited crush. And, of course, Harlan, who appears at the tea shop the day after Mark’s death to inquire as to the whereabouts of the rare orchid. All of this makes it difficult to guess who did the deed; but following Theo and her friends is always entertaining.

Rating: 8
March 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21386-5 (hardcover)


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