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.