MALICE AT THE MANOR by J. Marshall  Gordon


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A murder in the precisely manicured gardens of a North Carolina estate leads to an investigation involving fake Civil War relics.  

In this second volume of his Penny Summers mystery series, Gordon (Katelyn’s Killer, 2017) transports his heroine to the lush landscapes of Brantleigh Manor. Penny, a former Navy public affairs officer and master gardener, is there as a member of Madison Lerrimore’s residential-design class, savoring the creations of the famed Frederick Law Olmsted. But after they find Madison’s estranged stepfather, Wayland, dead in the bushes, Penny and her friends are soon learning lessons of a deadly kind. They get entangled in a conspiracy that has blossomed around counterfeit Confederate memorabilia. Wayland and some of his fellow Civil War re-enactors sold a bogus battle flag to a wealthy collector. But Wayland cheated his fellow criminals. Then someone shoots Madison in the leg at a re-enactment of the Battle of Asheville. Aided by Kalea, Madison’s daughter, a junior crime scene detective wannabe, Penny investigates the murder, shooting, and fraud. With Wayland’s checkered past, there is no shortage of suspects, including Madison, whom he had abused. Penny even finds time for romance with Aaron Hunt. Previously, Penny and the Navy senior petty officer had solved the murder of his fiancee, Katelyn, although they hadn’t acted on the spark between them then. Will the sleuthing trio, helped somewhat by Penny’s psychic Aunt Zelma, uncover the culprit? Outdoor design wouldn’t seem like a natural jumping-off point for murder, but garden aficionado Gordon makes it feel organic. This well-researched book brings the Asheville region alive, turning it into a character of sorts. As for the protagonist, she is a reluctant detective with a fraught history: She has returned to the area where her childhood ended when her younger brother, Josh, drowned on her watch. Penny, whose mother left after that tragedy, feels a bond with Kalea, who is afraid of losing Madison. So Penny doggedly seeks the truth, in large part to protect her family and friends. For a fledgling garden architect, she proves an engaging and skillful sleuth. Gordon has artfully nurtured a charming whodunit.

Readers should hope that this winning mystery series starring a gardener/detective will be fruitful and multiply.

Page count: 238pp
Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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