Into each life some rain must fall—even such an enviable one as that of Louise Eldridge, the gardening maven and sometime sleuth who lives in Alexandria with her CIA husband Bill and their teenaged daughter Janie. Louise’s gardening program on PBS is losing some of its audience to a show featuring sexy newcomer Bunny Bainbridge, who’s making inroads into the profitable retail gardening market as well, nearly bankrupting Fenimore Smith’s long-established White Flower Farm. Moreover, Bunny is more than a pretty face (and so on); she’s guiding rookie First Lady Maud Anderson, a native-plant enthusiast, as she plans a formal dinner and conference for the country’s top gardeners. Louise and a slew of experts are on hand at the height of the festivities when Bunny falls to the floor, an obvious victim of poisoning. Alexandria’s head of detectives Ron Goheen and Louise’s old acquaintance Detective Mike Geraghty (Harvest of Murder, 2001, etc.) duly investigate. Louise’s reenactment of the fatal dinner scene is less than a stellar success, and it takes another death, some sitting and thinking, and some high-level risk on Louise’s part before the killer is tagged.
Yes, the plot is clumsy, the characters stilted. But when Ripley comes to gardening, she writes with knowledge and obvious love. Readers with similar interests probably won’t mind the inevitable arid patches between display plots.