Louise Eldridge of Washington, D.C., who has never met a murder she didn't think she could solve (Death of a Garden Pest, 1996; Munch, 1994), is once again embroiled in mayhem. Along with her job as gardening maven on PBS's WTBA-TV, and her own demanding show garden, Louise hosts an unending stream of houseguests, all of which activity her endlessly patient husband Bill, a CIA agent, calmly handles. A call from Jay McCormick, a college beau from 20 years ago who now lives in California, brings an instant invitation to stay. Jay, a reporter- speechwriter, seems to be on an undercover mission to spy out the strategies of presidential candidate Lloyd Goodrich, whose smear campaign, spun by aides Ted French, Franklin Rawlings, and Willie Upchurch, is having a disastrous effect on the standing of his opponent, President Fairchild, as reflected in the polls. Jay's teenage daughter Melissa is returning to California with him after her stay with his ex-wife Lannie Gordon, a spokesperson for the tobacco industry and a Goodrich supporter. When several previously invited members of the Perennial Plant Society show up, Jay moves to the vacant house of Louise's neighbor Mary Mougey--and it's in Mary's ornamental fishpond that Louise finds his bludgeoned body. She also finds his notes and tapes but, typically, keeps those to herself while she does her very own investigating, leaving Police Detective Geraghty in the dark until he's called on to tie up the loose ends after Louise's nasty run-in with the bad guys. Serious gardeners will probably enjoy Ripley's informative gardening essays, interspersed throughout the story, but her clunky plot and heroine's irritating mix of smugness and chutzpah provide a good deal less satisfaction.