Gardener Mysteries // by Mary Freeman

  • Devil’s Trumpet (1999)
  • Deadly Nightshade (1999)
  • Bleeding Heart (2000)
  • Garden View (2002)

This series was first brought to my attention by Fictionophile, who reviewed the first book last year.  I believe that the series has been reissued under the author’s name of Mary Rosenblum – my understanding is that her real name is Mary Rosenblum, but since most of her writing was science fiction, she published this little cozy mystery series under the pen name of Mary Freeman.

It took me a long time to work my way through these four books, not because they weren’t enjoyable, but because I had some difficultly locating them!  My library weirdly only owned the first and third books in the series.  After I read and enjoyed the first book, I found a secondhand copy of the second book on eBay… that took forever to get here.  By the time it had arrived, Bleeding Heart was due back to the library because someone else had it on reserve – and there was only one copy in the whole system!  So then I had to wait until whoever that was finished the book (I almost left them a note asking them to hurry when I returned the book!), and finally was able to read both it and the fourth book, which I also purchased secondhand.

So while I’m not completely positive that this series was worth the hassle, it was overall quite enjoyable and engaging.  Rachel O’Conner is the main character of the series.  She lives in a small down in the Willamette Valley of Washington state, which has been mostly a farming/orchard community until recently, when it is starting to become much more touristy.  There are mixed feelings about the tourists from the long-time residents – many dislike the change and see only the negatives, while others recognize that the influx of money from rich outsiders may be the only way to really preserve their town.

Rachel herself is a likable, determined, hardworking heroine.  She owns her own landscaping business, having chosen not to continue working the family orchard under the leadership of her uncle, who definitely belongs to the old guard.  While still young, her business is starting to establish herself.  Rachel is very knowledgeable about her work, and excellent at gently nudging customers towards good long-term solutions for their landscaping issues.

In the first book, Rachel’s old high school flame returns to town, and I liked him, too.  Jeff has had a difficult life in many ways, but has returned to the town of Blossom as the chief of police, leaving behind a much more arduous law enforcement gig in a big city on the coast (I can’t remember which one… probably LA).  The romance between him and Rachel is built well throughout the series, as they both slowly build on their old friendship.

There is a whole cast of likable (and unlikable!) characters, so while each of these books would read find as individual stories, they really are a delight to read in order, watching some of the background characters grow as well.

The mysteries themselves were, at some level, the weak point of the stories.  While not bad, I did guess the bad guy on two of them, and in the last one the bad guy seemed a bit of a stretch.  Despite this, I really enjoyed reading these books because I enjoyed the characters and setting so much.

Overall, Freeman does a pretty good job of keeping the politics to a minimum, although there was a bit of insistence that “conservative” means “old, boring, stubborn stick-in-the-mud who refuses to modernize or care about anything other than earning $$$” while “liberal” means “forward-thinking, open-minded, kind, intelligent, far-seeing, generous individual who cares about the environment and other people even it means a great deal of personal sacrifice.”  As someone who definitely identifies as conservative, but who also does care about the environment and other people, it got a little old to be constantly told that in order to be a true conservative, I actually have to be an old grumpy white man.

But this was a fairly minor theme throughout, so I was willing to mostly overlook it.  Overall, I definitely recommend these (if you can find them!) if you are looking for some relaxing cozies with likable characters.  The series wraps up very well at the end, giving a definite conclusion to the books in a way that I found to be very satisfying.

NB: It appears that for the reprint of these books under Mary Rosenblum, they have changed the name of the last book to Deadly Harvest. Why they would do this when there is another book in the series that already starts with the word “deadly,” I have no idea.  Each of the titles – including Garden View – ties neatly into the actual story.  The last book doesn’t really have much to do with harvesting, so I definitely prefer the original title all around.

Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries

So I’ve still been reading my way through the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.  I read several on vacation, and several since then, and I’m still really, really enjoying them.  For those of you who don’t remember, these charming cozy mysteries are set in England in the early 1920’s.  The heroine is the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, who, despite her background, is working for a living as a writer, mostly of magazine articles.  (Her brother died in the War, and her father in the ‘flu epidemic, leaving a cousin to inherit the title and family estate.)

While some of the mysteries have been unnecessarily complicated (Dead in the Water), full of far too many secondary-characters-who-could-also-be-the-murderer (Rattle His Bones), or just completely impractical (The Case of the Murdered Muckraker), on the whole, these mysteries are just good, clean fun.  They’re super relaxing and quick reads, and Daisy and Alec are a favorite pair of mine.  (I’ve explained why I think Alec is such a perfect hero before here.)  I love the fact that their relationship actually progresses (I apparently was quite scarred by Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys; even though almost every mystery series I’ve read since then has progression of time, I’m consistently surprised and pleased to find it!); the happy couple is married just before To Davy Jones Below, and I’ve realized that watching Daisy settle into her role as wife and mother is a huge part of the reason I keep reading these books.

These are definitely cozy mysteries, and one must keep the ‘cozy’ part in mind – these are not procedurals or thrillers or anything of that sort.  Sometimes disbelief must be a bit suspended (seriously, The Case of the Murdered Muckraker – what even?!), but Dunn generally does a good job of killing off an unlikable person and giving us a limited field of suspects from which to chose.  I also like the way that, while the books are in the third person, she shifts sometimes from Daisy’s to Alec’s perspective and back, giving the reader a bigger picture of what’s happening with the  mystery, as well as some insight into the motives of both the main characters.  I also like it that while Daisy is hardworking, good at her job, spunky, and courageous, she still doesn’t like the sight of blood and sometimes gets queasy when thinking of/seeing the victim – far more realistic than having her be completely nonchalant and tough.

Overall, I definitely recommend the series, and am excited about reading through the rest – I just finished Mistletoe and Murder, so I’m only about halfway through!

Death by the Book


by Julianna Deering

Published 2014

First off, SO sorry it’s been so long.  Life has been quite busy and full of a couple of big changes (one very good, one very bad, and both very time-consuming), and I just haven’t had the blogging time I’ve yearned for, which is a shame because I have so much to share!  To start, a book from Bethany House that was provided to me for free from the publisher in exchanged for my unbiased review –

Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing the first book in the Drew Farthering series, Rules of Murder.  This year, Deering published its sequel.  So I pulled Rules of Murder off my shelf and read them both, back-to-back.  If you’ll recall, I enjoyed Rules of Murder just fine, but it didn’t really engage me emotionally.  Unfortunately, I had very similar feelings about Death by the Book.  

This second installment picks up pretty shortly after the first ended.  Drew, Madeline, and Nick are trying to settle back into regular life.  Drew is still convinced that Madeline is the girl for him (since he’s known her about a month now) and Madeline is still a bit uncertain.  Madeline is an orphan, and an American.  When her aunt (who raised her) arrives unexpectedly, the household is thrown into a bit of turmoil, since Aunt Ruth isn’t the easiest person to get along with.  To top it off, people are showing up dead, with delicate hatpins stuck into their chests, mysterious messages attached.

I really, really wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t engage me.  And I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I finished it to try and figure out why.  I think that part of the problem is that the characters don’t feel very realistic.  I’ve also been reading through Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series (more cozy mysteries).  From the very beginning, Daisy and Alec are very real people, and I think that it’s because they do things.  When I’m not reading about their adventures, it’s easy to picture them tooling about, living life – Daisy doing research and writing articles, Alec solving mysteries at the Scotland Yard, getting together for dinner whenever they can.

But Drew, especially, doesn’t do anything.  He’s rich and leisurely.  He has no employment, and doesn’t even seem to have any hobbies.  When he’s not doing something on the pages of the book, I have no idea what he is doing, you know?  It’s more like a play, and when he isn’t out on the stage, I figure he must just be sitting about behind the scenes, waiting for his next line.  He doesn’t feel like a real person, and the same goes for Madeline and Nick, who appear and give their lines, and then exit, stage left.  Nick at least has some employment, so I figure he’s off to do some estate managing, but apparently Madeline and her aunt hang around a small cottage all day doing ???? and Drew meanders about the countryside, waiting for murders to happen.

His detecting position is also ambiguous.  In the first book, it made at least a modicum of sense to have Drew doing some detecting, since the murders had occurred in his own home.  But the Inspector was consistently irritated at his interference, and, in the end, it didn’t really feel as though Drew had been the one to make the brilliant deductions.  Yet, for some reason, in this book the Inspector actually invites Drew along.  And even though the Inspector says things like, “Let me ask the questions,” Drew always ends up asking the questions.  It just feels awkward, because Drew really has no purpose.

And finally, just too  many deaths for a true cozy mystery – traditionally, cozy mysteries kill off a minimum of people, and mostly kill people we don’t like anyway.  Deering has no such compunctions, leaving us with a villain who feels far too ruthless for a cozy (rereading the first book, I realized it was very similar in this aspect).

I really don’t mean to just completely bash this book.  The mystery itself was intriguing, and some of the dialogue fun.  But overall, the whole thing felt very scripted and unnatural, leaving me with very mediocre feelings towards the story – a pretty solid 3/5.

“Requiem for a Mezzo” and “Murder on the Flying Scotsman”



by Carola Dunn

Published 1996, 1997

In the third and fourth books of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, we learn more about Daisy and see her relationship with one of my favorite heroes develop more.

Some words about Alec and why he makes me swoon a bit:  Alec is hardworking, reliable, protective, caring, quiet, compassionate, steady – and all without a lot of fuss or drama.  His wife died in the influenza epidemic (as did Daisy’s father), leaving him a single father (Belinda is nine when we first meet her).  I love that Alec is ten years older than Daisy (my husband is ten years older than me so) – just his feeling of I can’t believe this beautiful young woman seems to actually like me is too adorable for words.  And maybe that’s what makes Alec so endearing – he looks at his relationship with Daisy as just brilliant luck – he’s so proud and pleased to be her man.  He encourages her in her work but is still a voice of reason when Daisy starts to get a bit carried away.  He’s a loving father, an excellent worker, self-educated, and respected by his supervisors, peers, and underlings.  Alec is not particularly romantic, but he’s the kind of man who will wear well, making a solid, dependable husband for life.  Watching the mutual attraction between him and Daisy grow into love is one of my very favorite parts of this series.

Notes about these titles in particular:  They’re cozy mysteries, and one of my favorite part of cozy mysteries is the way likable characters aren’t usually the ones to get knocked off.  In both these stories, the problem seemed to be finding someone without a motive instead of someone with one.  Both also have a closed set of potential suspects, allowing the reader to really have a chance to make a guess at whodunit.  The answer is usually guessable (although I don’t always guess it because I’m a terrible detective), and Dunn doesn’t usually use annoying tricks like whipping out a murderer that you met for two paragraphs on page five while the main character was sipping a cup of coffee.

In both mysteries, Daisy’s presence is natural.  Her friendship with a chief inspector at Scotland Yard also helps make the fact that Daisy frequently seems to stumble across murders seem to be at least slightly less ridiculous than it otherwise could be.  While these book don’t go into a huge amount of character development, I do feel like Daisy is a relatable person – open, compassionate, friendly, polite, hardworking, stubborn, loyal, and slightly impulsive.  We meet Alec’s daughter Belinda in Murder on the Flying Scotsman, and see Daisy starting to think about what her long-term relationship with Alec could mean – about whether or not she (Daisy) is ready to be a mother to a girl only 15 or so years her junior.

All in all, rereading these mysteries is just as much fun as I hoped it would be, and I highly recommend the series.

“Death at Wentwater Court” and “The Winter Garden Mystery”



by Carola Dunn

Published 1994, 1995

Having bid a very fond farewell to Amelia Peabody Emerson, it is time to start a new mystery series.  I’ve been meaning to reread the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries for quite some time, and am actually pretty excited to do so.  

These books start in 1923 (so, ironically, right where the Emerson books leave off!) and are set in England.  Daisy Dalrymple is the protagonist, and a delightfully adorable one she is.  Although Daisy is an “Honorable,” being the daughter of a Lord, her cousin inherited the title, estate, and money when Daisy’s brother died in World War I.  While Daisy could live with her mother in the dowager house, or even with her cousins in her old home, Daisy has chosen to be the quintessential 1920’s girl and work for her living.  Having tried (and hated) stenography, Daisy begins Death at Wentwater Court with a new job – writing articles for a magazine.  The articles are supposed to be about various estates around the country, Daisy’s editors (correctly) assuming that she will have connections that will get her in the door where others may fail.  Wentwater Court is first on Daisy’s list, and she heads to the country expecting to spend a few quiet days taking pictures of the estate and listening to the housekeeper tell all the tales of the family’s history.  And that’s exactly what happens – except there happens to be a murder, too.

These are the ideal cozy mysteries.  Daisy is sweet and kind, but independent and fun.  She’s a very relatable person (Sophie and I have decided that that is a word), which makes these stories very easy to read.  They are quick reads (I confess – while I usually am reading through various series in a round robin fashion, I enjoyed Wentwater Court so much that I plunged right into The Winter Garden Mystery without pause!) – the dialogue is good, the characters well-written, and a good balance of the current story mixed with the over-arching development of Daisy and other characters.  These are not crime novels, so don’t expect brilliant analyses and stunning conclusions – they’re just solid, fun, well-written mysteries centered around a very likable young woman.

I will say that Daisy’s love interest is one of my favoritest of heroes.  He is solid, reliable, hard-working, steady – I fall in love with him every time I read these books.

I may not review every single one of these titles – I often don’t know what to say about mysteries (especially ones I like) because I don’t want to give anything away, but don’t be surprised to see them crop up pretty regularly.  I’ll list the full series under Dunn’s name, even the ones I don’t review.  I’m excited about rereading this series (it’s been about five or so years) because Dunn is still adding to this series, so there are several later titles that I’ve never read, and plenty of earlier ones that I don’t remember.  Overall, I highly recommend this series.