In this third mystery novel in a series, a landscape designer and public relations consultant becomes suspicious about her stepfather’s death—and her long-lost mother’s possible involvement in it.
In two previous adventures, Penelope “Penny” Summers, now 33, left the U.S. Navy and began training as a gardener, while also investigating crimes as an amateur detective. In Annapolis, Maryland, she’s a consultant for PR firm Lewis and Gregory and is launching a new landscaping business, Summers Breeze Gardens. Her first important commission is for wealthy Aidan Reid, but he dies before she can begin work. But that’s not the most startling news; his widow, Ophelia Reid, was once known as Joan Summers—Penny’s mother. Twenty-three years ago, she abandoned the family after Penny’s younger brother accidently drowned. Now, Ophelia still wants the landscape design, and although Penny remains baffled and angry, she needs the commission. Penny’s suspicions are raised, however, when she discovers a poisonous plant called water celery near Ophelia’s pond—one that’s known to induce a sardonic-looking smile in its victims. Could Aidan have been poisoned? Suspects mount as Penny untangles a web of motives—and the body count rises as well. Penny also learns the art of feng shui—sometimes with a little help from the voice of her deceased Grandpa Jack, who “occasionally sends [her] astute observations from beyond the grave.” Gordon (Malice at the Manor, 2018, etc.) makes good use of his Annapolis setting, and his descriptions of marine businesses, wealthy yacht owners, and bits of local ambience give the book a solid footing. Penny’s voice is amusing, and her preoccupations help to round out her character. Whether she’s sleuthing, designing a garden, or coming up with a marketing scheme, she consistently shows creativity and attention to detail. However, the author renders his characters’ emotions less successfully; Penny doesn’t ever talk things out with her mother, for instance, and says little about a fizzled engagement. Penny does acknowledge her discomfort with “that dreaded word, feelings,” but this tendency has a flattening effect on the overall story.
A tangled mystery that, like a good flower bed, has several pops of color—even if it is arid in spots.