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Contact me at Mom25dogs@gmail.com

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Darling Dahlias and The Cucumber Tree by Susan Wittig Albert

The Darling Dahlias and The Cucumber Tree by Susan Wittig Albert

A new series by Susan Wittig Albert of a town named Darling in Alabama during the Great Depression of the 1930's. A group of ladies are members of the town gardening club called the Darling Dahlias. They meet in a home donated to them by a deceased charter member, Mrs. Dahlia Blackstone, and it has a lovely and haunted Cucumber tree in the front yard. Widow and probate clerk Verna Tidwell is the Treasurer of the club. Mayor Jed Taylor's wife, Ophelia Snow, is the Vice President of the club. Single and a legal secretary to Mr. Mosely, Elizabeth "Lizzy" Lacy, is freelance journalist as well as being the President of the club. We meet many of the town's inhabitants and Albert draws the town for us. From the bank to Bertha's Beauty Bower, we learn all about Darling, Alabama.

When the peroxided blonde Bunny Scott disappears the ladies investigate. Bunny is the 1930's version of a party girl. She is the cosmetic's clerk at the local drug store where she is playing the slap and tickle with the married druggist and store owner. Lizzy also finds out that she had a relationship with her boss, Mr. Mosely. And there were others. She is found dead in a car reported stolen and the ladies go into high gear. Sneaking into Bunny's rented room they find clues galore but who will they lead to? Meanwhile there has been a prison break at the local prison farm. Some of the neighbors are reporting the ghost has been digging under the Cucumber tree at the Dahlias' house and the only bank in town has some mysterious problems. What is going on in their small and familiar town?

I really liked this book and I look forward to others in the series. I grew up and live in the South. My parents, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncle would have lived during this time period and I can say Alber was very accurate in describing a small Southern town. The characters are a lot like people I've met and known, the feel was right. The women gossip but they care about each other too. It's not malicious gossip, there is a lot of caring and kindness towards each other and their friends. For instance, Ophelia Snow is approached by a neighbor who thinks she should know the rumor that the Mayor, Ophelia's husband, is involved with a lonely young wife out near the Prison Farm. The neighbor isn't trying to be mean but to alert a neighbor. Ophelia is devastated but decides that she's going to check out this young woman. She goes by the lady's house and strikes up a conversation with her. It seems her husband has left her with his two teen sons while he's out of town working and she's lonely. Ophelia offers to take the woman to the grocery store to stock up on her dwindling food supplies. During this trip, Ophelia comes to realize her husband is faithful no matter what it looks like and that he's just concerned about the young wife too. Sure enough, the rumor gets to Mayor Jed Snow's ears and he tells his wife that she has nothing to worry about and he's proud of her helping the young woman around town like she did. It put a quietus on the rumor.

This is one of those cozy mysteries, light and easy to read. Cozy mysteries are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed and an amateur sleuth (or sleuths) solve the mysteries. Examples of this type of genre are Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Monsieur Poirot; Lilian Jackson Braun's Cat Who... mysteries; Rita Mae Brown's Sneaky Pie Brown series; and, Jessica Fletcher in Cabot Cove in the Murder She Wrote TV series. A few examples of the occupations of the amateur sleuths are: caterer, bed and breakfast owner, quilter, cat fancier/owner, nun, priest, librarian, book store owner, herbalist, florist, dog trainer, homemaker, teacher, needlepoint store owner, tea shop owner, etc. They are usually series. There is no graphic violence, no profanity or very little, and no explicit sex. The murder is not dwelt upon or described in horendous detail. The environment, such as Darling, Alabama, is described and becomes familiar as do the supporting characters. Reading the newest in a series is like catching up on the community. This type of character development and community feel is light and gentle.

Albert has a winner in this series and I recommend it to anyone.

Here are some photos I found of a Magnolia Acuminata, aka the Cucumbertree.

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