Monday, June 12, 2017

Review of "Death at the Spring Plant Sale" by Ann Ripley



Louise Eldridge - wife, mother, amateur sleuth, and host of a public television gardening show - drives from her Virginia home to Bethesda, Maryland to tape a show at the Bethesda Garden Club's spring sale. The TV episode showcases the club's president, Catherine Freeman, a wealthy, capable leader accustomed to winning first place in all garden club competitions. Naturally, this irks other club members who crave recognition for their own prowess in growing plants and arranging flowers, etc. As it happens Catherine inspires further envy in some of the local ladies because she's married to Walter Freeman, a high-profile government economist who hobnobs with important people in Washington.

While in Bethesda Louise stays with her old friend Emily Holiday, a once independent, vibrant woman who now seems to be under the thumb of her conservative, repressive husband Tom. On the evening after the garden show taping, Louise, Emily, and Tom are walking the Holiday family dog around their Bethesda neighborhood when they hear gunfire. They come to discover that Catherine Freeman was shot and killed in the car as she and her husband Walter were returning from an evening out. The question arises: was the shooter really aiming at Walter? Louise, unable to resist her sleuthing instincts, is compelled to investigate the crime and Emily, in need of some excitement, is an enthusiastic sidekick.

This is one of those books where the amateur sleuths are more capable than the police of figuring out what the important evidence is, who the real suspects should be, etc. Louise repeatedly tries to put the police on the right track, but they reject her interference - which only makes her more adamant to solve the crime. Louise and Emily decide the killer must be one of the women in the garden club (apparently because these are the only suspects they have easy access to) and proceed to investigate the ladies.

I like cozies, but in books set in modern times - with police having access to forensics, phone records, CCTV, and so on - it strains credulity to think amateur detectives are more capable of solving a crime than the cops. Even accepting that amateurs are better, however, this story relies too much on blind luck and an unlikely confession to unveil Catherine's killer.

The characters in the story - with their jealousies and clandestine maneuverings - are mildly interesting but the plot is not credible. The author does, however, weave some interesting gardening tips into the story, and provides a useful essay in the back of the book about gardening in times of drought.

For me, the story was too unrealistic to be totally enjoyable but fervent cozy fans might like the book more than I did.

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