Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree-Susan Wittig Albert

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree
Susan Wittig Albert
Berkley, Jul 6 2010, $24.95
ISBN 9780425234457

In May 1930 in Alabama, the ladies of Dahlia try to stay optimist during the Great Depression at a time when the local Darling Savings and Trust may go bust. Twelve of the women form the Darling Garden Club, use an estate inherited from the late Mrs. Dahlia Blackstone as their prime meeting locale. The club president Miss Elizabeth “Lizzy” Lacy writes a gardening column for The Darling Dispatch while the group welcomes anyone to join them; unlike their enemy the Sisters of Spade snobs.

As they search for allegedly hidden booty under an apparent haunted cucumber tree on the estate, drugstore clerk Eva Louise "Bunny" Scott vanishes; at the same time a prison break occurs. When Bunny is found dead, most of the townsfolk assume the floozy picked the wrong hunk; probably one of the escaped convicts. Led by their three officers (Lizzy, probate clerk secretary widow Verna Tidwell and mayor’s wife, Ophelia Snow), the Dahlia Darlings investigate Bunny’s death even as they squabble amongst themselves over who owns the cache found under the cucumber tree.

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree is an excellent timely regional Depression Era amateur sleuth that brings to life the atmosphere of a period in which people are concerned over the economy that has left no chicken in almost any pot. The investigation cleverly interweaves within 1930 Alabama though the Dahlia Darlings as each in their way struggles with the surviving the Depression. Susan Wittig Albert, author of the modern day China Bayles and early twentieth century Beatrix Potter mysteries shows her talent as she writes a great period piece somewhat in between the settings of her two strong long-running series.

Harriet Klausner

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