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Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Murder in the Garden Club by Neal Sanders

Neal Sanders is a local author who incorporates the art work of a local illustrator, Lynne Schulte, in his books. A Murder in the Garden Club is one such book.

Sanders writes of a small suburban town outside the City of Boston. During the boom of larger and larger homes taking over once-revered older homes, the town of Hardington is an example of the rising and falling of the American economy. In the eighties, McMansions of all styles were appearing on former farmland pastures, with little more than an acre to spare, placing oversized colonials shoulder to shoulder with Southwestern red-tiled roofs shadowed by tall European Tudors.  And when the economy slid downward, and tastes became less eclectic, those houses stayed on the buyer's market for long inactive months.

Still, in towns like Hardington, volunteer groups made up of a population of well-funded women with time to spare, who dedicated that time to beautification of their town's intersections and open spaces, continued to advocate for reasonable growth and attractive settings. One such group, the Hardington Garden Club, conducted monthly meetings where assigned tasks such as watering the highway exits' bouquets of blooms (often involving lugging heavy containers of water to such isolated sites) and shopping for, planting, weeding and deadheading those chosen areas were often at the top of the agenda.

When a prominent, retired school teacher and long-time member of the Garden Club is found dead at her home, an apparent accidental death presumably caused by her little dog Chipper, her quarrels with a contractor building another McMansion next door, and her irritation and outbursts of anger toward a cement manufacturing plant in town whose trucks are tearing up the roads and spilling noxious liquids on the roadside gardens, begin to raise speculation that this was not an accidental death.

Liz is her friend, and co-gardener, and wants to learn the truth of Sally's death. She begins reluctantly, and then enthusiastically, working with the recently-hired detective in town. John Flynn took early retirement from the City of Boston Police Department, and is finding his new job in Hardington quite different from the well-provisioned and connected resources available in Suffolk County (Boston.) Here in Hardington, with a small town Chief of Police whose name is the source of the town's own name, where murder doesn't happen more than one in a decade, if that often, things are done slowly, calmly, so as not to upset the citizens. His frustration with that is complicated further by his own marital stresses, and he begins to see Liz as more than just a helpful local volunteer.

Liz's own marriage is depicted as happier, but lonelier, as her husband is often on the road, in other states, saving companies which have been hit hard by the economy. Her own child is grown and gone, and she is left alone to care for her extensive gardens and larger-than-now-necessary home. Liz dedicates her time to helping John Flynn understand the social dynamics of the town.

Neal Sanders' characters come quickly to life in recognizable settings. He has more books that either follow or precede this one, and I look forward to reading those, too. And Lynne Schulte's artwork makes for delightful covers of Sanders' books. Click here to find more of Neal's books at Amazon, and click here to see more of Lynne's art:
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