The older I get, the more aware I am that there are just too many books being published. There's no way to keep up and read everything, so I've made reading guidelines for myself. One I settled on a few years ago was simply not to read any featuring a non-professional as the protagonist-detective. Personally, I would rather not know if my dry cleaner is finding dead bodies on the premises regularly, and, if I had a literary agent, I would certainly prefer that he or she concentrate on selling my book rather than on solving crimes.
Now Rosemary Harris has punctured my neat, serviceable little rule with her new series, which begins with Pushing Up Daisies. Her heroine, Paula Holliday, who was downsized from her media job in New York City, has started a landscaping business in suburban Connecticut. What better profession to give an amateur sleuth—she has an excuse, after all, to be digging around in the dirt, which is a natural place to find a body. There are archeologists, true, but landscaping is a less exotic, more believable job. Paula becomes involved in a mystery when she uncovers the remains of a long-dead baby on the estate of a pair of deceased sisters.
Eventually there is a contemporary crime that also catches Paula's growing interest in detective work; the solutions to the mysteries central to the plot are surprisingly complex. Paula does have professional and personal reasons to become involved, so the reader doesn't have to be distracted by wondering why she doesn't leave the police work to the police. (And the policeman here, in the person of the overweight Mike O'Malley, is a person of interest, both to the reader and certainly to Paula.) Harris, who is a master gardener herself, takes care not to pile on too much horticulture; actually, I would have preferred more. But the strengths of Pushing Up Daisies involve place, character and often sprightly dialogue. And note the scene in which the villain is unmasked: It's highly original and involves a maze, crushed oyster shells and buttercream icing.
Joanne Collings writes from Washington, D.C. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2007 December #1
A TV producer turned landscaper unearths trouble aplenty when she restores the gardens of a historic Connecticut home.Sick of the mindless exposés demanded of her by the media conglomerate that gobbled up her boutique TV production company, Paula Holliday took her severance package to rustic Springfield, bought a bungalow and got in touch with her roots--literally. Now pH Factor, Gardening Solutions has just landed its first big job, all because Richard Stapley of the Springfield Historical Society thinks Paula might renovate the garden of Halcyon, home to the late, eccentric Peacock sisters, better (or at least cheaper) than Guido Chiaramonte, owner of Springfield's biggest nursery. Of course the job has its challenges: the overgrown shrubbery, the decrepit greenhouse, the mummified infant corpse buried in the herb garden. The first two are relatively easy to solve for Mexican day-laborers Hugo Jurado and Felix Ontivares. (As a bonus, Felix is actually a wealthy politician in his own country, plus incredibly sexy to boot.) The last item, though, is a poser. Cute but pudgy detective Mike O'Malley wants Paula to forget about any amateur sleuthing. But her New York galpal Lucy Cavanaugh and her local buddy Babe Chinnery give Paula their full support, and soon she's digging up more than just pansies.Paula's debut is better written than most two-suitor romances posing as mysteries, but the solution is more convoluted than a corn maze. Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2007 October #1
When a former thirty-something media exec turns to landscaping in suburban Connecticut, a mummified body unearths trouble and secrets for her and her friends in this debut. Master gardener Harris lives in New York City and Fairfield County, CT. Cross-country driving tour. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2007 December #1
Hired by the local historical society to restore the gardens of Halcyon, a Connecticut estate, Paula Holliday, who left New York City to open a landscaping business in the suburbs, discovers the mummified body of a baby. Harris, a master gardener, makes a charming debut with this botanical mystery, but as sometimes happens with new authors, she devotes too many pages to the garden restoration and not enough to fleshing out the mystery. For cozy fans who like their amateur sleuths working in a particular profession. Harris lives in New York City and Fairfield County, CT. [A Minotaur First Edition Selection; library marketing campaign; see Prepub Mystery, LJ 10/1/07.][Page 91]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
in Harris's cozy debut, budding landscaper Paula Holliday turns sleuth after the former documentary filmmaker, a New York City transplant to the suburbs, unearths a box containing "a small dead body" in the neglected, overgrown garden of the Springfield, Conn., house of the recently deceased Peacock sisters, Dorothy and Renata. Sgt. Michael O'Malley, who "looked like he knew his way to the donut shop," leads the crime investigation, but Paula does her share of detecting, supported by such friends as Lucy Cavanaugh, a fellow filmmaker, and Wanda "Babe" Chinnery, the proprietor of the local diner where all and sundry come to gossip. Harris does a good job developing her characters, their friendships and romances, though the mystery itself borders on the formulaic. Still, the action builds to a satisfying denouement and gardeners will appreciate the author's insider knowledge. (Feb.)[Page 37]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.