A brief encounter in a down-at-the-heels resort lands a Connecticut gardener in a deep, deep hole.
When she got good and sick of studio politics, New York TV producer Paula Holliday lit out for suburban Connecticut to open pH Factor, Gardening Solutions (Pushing Up Daisies, 2008). Now that the name of her enterprise has been inexplicably changed to “Dirty Business,” business is not so much dirty as slow, with slightly pixilated matron Caroline Sturgis the sole consumer of Paula’s talents. Gone, too, is sexy garden helper Felix Ontivares, leaving only pleasingly plump Detective Mike O’Malley to fret about Paula’s forays into the world of crime. But he’s got plenty to fret about. While sitting at the bar at the Titans Hotel waiting for that mainstay of the garden mystery, the corpse plant, to produce its once-a-decade, revoltingly scented bloom, Paula meets Nick Vigoriti, who turns up dead in a dumpster shortly after hitting on her. Paula’s best friend Lucy Cavanaugh, the gal who’s supposedly bankrolling their jaunt, doesn’t turn up dead or alive. Between dodging shady Ukrainian thugs somehow connected to Bernie Mishkin, the hotel’s cash-strapped owner, and searching for Lucy in the tribal lands adjacent to the hotel, Paula will have to scramble if she’s to mulch another day.
Despite the intervolume discrepancies and some syntactic weirdness, Harris’s follow-up is brisker and tighter than her debut, with a puzzle both baffling and logical.