Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, fun setting, great mystery
The Bottom Line:
A murder in town
Reveals some larger conflicts
In this fun debut
Lilly Must Prune the Suspects Until She Finds a Killer
I don't have a green thumb. I don't even have a brown thumb. You leave a plant with me, it will die. I've even killed cactus. Yet, I love plants and flowers, so I was looking forward to Pruning the Dead, the first in the new Garden Squad mystery series from Julia Henry.
Lilly Jayne, a woman of a certain age, is opening her family's home in Goosebush, Massachusetts, for a garden party. It's been several years since that she hosted a party like this as she was mourning her late husband. But she is slowly getting back into the life of the town, and this party is one way to do that.
Unfortunately, getting back into life in Goosebush includes dealing with her first husband's current wife. Merilee Frank goes looking for trouble and does a very good job of stirring it up. She makes several scenes at the party, but the real shock comes a few days later when Merilee turns up dead. With the police looking at several people Lilly is certain are innocent, she begins to investigate with the help of her best friends. But can they figure out what really happened?
This series is off to a great start. Lilly and the rest of the characters are wonderful. I could feel the bonds between these friends right away, and how much they care for each other made me care for them more. Yes, the suspects are just as strong, and I had a hard time figuring out just which one of them was going to be guilty.
Unfortunately, I did feel the book could have been a little tighter. This was especially true near the beginning, but I never felt this the plot wandered for too long. There is a strong gardening sub-plot that I really enjoyed, which certainly helped keep my attention.
It's rare when a cozy isn't written in first person, and that's the case here. The book sticks fairly close to Lilly's point of view, however, we get very brief passages from a few of the other characters. I do feel these transitions could have been a little smoother, but I think this is more of a pet peeve than anything else.
I loved the setting. Goosebush is one of those mythical small town I love to visit in cozies, in this case right on the coast. Since this story is set in mid-spring, it made me want to go visit the beach. I could almost smell the sea air as I read. Honestly, there are so many spots in this town I want to visit, so naturally, I'm anxious to go back for future books.
And let me be clear, the mystery is good. I began to suspect where things were going as we got closer to the end, but I had to keep reading to find out for sure if I was right or not. The clues and red herrings are fun, and the climax is wonderful.
For those with better luck gardening then I have, there are some gardening tips at the end you can use to make your own gardens better.
I'm hoping that trouble in Goosebush will be popping up like weeds so we will have many more chances to go visit these new friends. Pruning the Dead is a fun debut that promises many more great visits to come.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.