Sunday, May 06, 2007

Poisoned Petals - Joyce and Jim Lavene

Poisoned Petals
A Peggy Lee Garden Mystery
Joyce and Jim Lavene
Berkley Prime Crime


As part of her work as a botanist, Dr. Peggy Lee (yes, she knows) helps out longtime friend, Darmus Appleby with the Community Garden, part of his larger Feed America charity. Darmus had some very rough spots in his life, but the charity is his dream and his reason for living. Arriving at Darmus’ place to deliver some flowers one morning, Peggy smells a gas leak. After calling the authorities, she knocks at doors and windows, trying to find her friend. To her shock, an explosion rocks the little house, sending glass shards flying and starting a fire. Without thought, Peggy risks her life to enter the burning house and drag out the body of her friend. Paramedics tell her that Darmus was apparently trying to light the stove when it exploded, and agree that, with the terrible burns he suffered, death might be a blessing.

Now leadership of the charity goes to Darmus’ only living relative, his younger brother Luther. Luther, who has his own health problems, is a minister. Despite his spiritual calling, he’s always felt that Darmus got the respect and adulation that he deserved. But he’s ready to step up and take over for his brother. Mere days later, visitors discover Luther lying unconscious in the Community Garden. By the time Peggy gets to the hospital, Luther is gone, too. Clutched in his hand, for reasons Peggy can’t understand, was Darmus’ wedding band. And in his pocket, a hyacinth, which, in the language of flowers, stands for sorrow. Both brothers’ dying in questionable circumstances within days seems too coincidental to Peggy. And, late one evening, Nightflyer, an enigmatic computer user who was friends with her late husband, tells her she’s right to be suspicious. He tells her to follow the money; the huge grant given to the charity just before Darmus died. Before signing off, he has one more bombshell to drop on Peggy. But that would be a spoiler.

This entertaining series blends the best aspects of cozies with more intricate plots to produce mysteries a cut above average. Each chapter is preceded by the name of a plant, and an explanation of its properties and significance. These items are fascinating on their own, and they do lend some deeper understanding to the ongoing story. The mystery here is quite intricate and there are several twists. Some aspects of the story have their roots in the past, when Peggy, Darmus, and Luther were all at college. This installment, quite possibly the best of the series so far, works quite well as a stand-alone novel, although many readers may want to read PRETTY POISON and FRUIT OF THE POISON TREE for the fun of it. After reading one of these books, I always feel the urge to go outside and plant something. I think Peggy would approve.

Rating: 7 ½
May 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21581-4 (paperback)


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