This is the fourth mystery in Susan Wittig Albert’s fairly new and historically interesting series starring the Darling Dahlias. Albert creates a group of women in 1930s-era Darling, Alabama, who have their fingers—and their noses—in all the town news and goings-on.
Our Darling Dahlias Garden Club is making big plans for the Confederate Day celebrations. Their focus is the town cemetery, where they plan to plant some classic Confederate roses along the fence. True to her gardening and herbal background, Albert tells us about the rose (which is actually a hibiscus). We also find out each member’s particular interest, from rose fancier Earlynne Biddle to Alice Ann Walker, who likes the simplicity of bulb flowers such as irises and daylilies.
I love the club roster provided for the Darling Dahlias with tidbits about their backgrounds. In April 1931, our intrepid club officers include president Elizabeth Lacy, also a secretary to a local attorney and writer of the garden column for the Darling Dispatch. In addition, there are Ophelia Snow (VP and secretary), wife of the town major; treasurer Verna Tidwell, an office manager for the probate office; and club historian Bessie Bloodworth, owner of Magnolia Manor, the local “genteel ladies” boarding house. Of course, all the members are listed as well.
The women are used to hard work and dedication to each other and their small town. When one of their own members is accused of stealing $15,000 from the town treasury, the ladies are determined to prove her innocence. That isn’t all the Dahlias have to deal with. Miss (Dorothy) Rogers, town librarian, discovers a mystery of her own. A bedeviled cat has torn the cover of a treasured family heirloom pillow, and there is some strange embroidery underneath. Could it be some kind of code? Can the local newspaperman be of any help in discovering its meaning?
The tidbits of history, garden lore and small-town life are charmingly presented, including the story of a real-life Confederate spy—the so-called “Confederate Rose,” Rose Greenhow. In the author’s note at the end of the book, there is a copy of Rose Greenhow’s cipher. Makes for enjoyable reading, and if your taste buds are twitching when you read about the food that the Darling Dahlias make, there is a great selection of recipes at the back of the book, including Dr. Carver’s Peanut Cookies #3, Euphoria’s Southern Fried Doughnuts and more.
The book comes to a very satisfactory conclusion. If it is your first introduction to this terrific Southern mystery series, go back and read the rest.