The Ladies of Garrison Gardens, a sequel to this author’s debut, The Three Miss Margarets (2003), is a light contemporary novel with a rich Southern flavour and a strong touch of mystery.
Peggy Garrison, one of the “three Miss Margarets,” has died of cancer and, to the shock of the town, has left her large estate to feisty, thirty-five-year old Laurel Selene McReady, a former journalist to the Charles Valley Gazette who had become very close to this old lady.
Laurel, who up to this date has had to count pennies to keep herself, is understandably overwhelmed. How is she to run the Garrison fortune—the famous botanical gardens, the huge resort, and the lovely Garrison “Cottage?” She knows absolutely nothing about business. After a little research, she finds out a new management would do wonders for the poor employees, who hardly have any benefits or health insurance, but her plans are brought to a halt when Garrison lawyer Stuart Lawrence begins to pressure her to give him power of attorney so he can continue to “rule” Garrison Gardens as he always has in the past.
Why has Stuart Lawrence been given power of attorney all these years? What kind of power has he over the family? Parallel to this mystery is the obsessive interest that a little old lady named Miss Rain has over Garrison Gardens and to everyone and everything related to it. What, in fact, is her connection with the Garrisons? Through her memories the reader will travel to the 1920s, to the time when she was a vaudevillian and her involvement with a mother and a daughter called The Sunshine Sisters. Are they related in any way to the mysterious dress and sheet of music Laurel unexpectedly discovers in an old trunk in the Cottage? Laurel is certain the Garrison family holds a secret…but what?
Miss Rain, seriously ill in bed, feels she can help the new Garrison heir have control over the evil Stuart Lawrence. With this in mind, she decides to write a long letter revealing the secret. But will her letter reach Laurel in time?
The strength in this novel lies in the way the author brings the south to life with all its sights and sounds. One can feel the warm sun on the daylilies, daffodils and hollyhocks; one can taste the iced tea. The old ladies in the book are lovable, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to relate to Laurel, who’s favourite words seem to be the hell with it this and the hell with that. Her relationship with the young Dr. Perry, eight years younger than her, adds a twinge of romance to the story. At times the novel moves very slow, particularly during Miss Rain’s flashbacks. After all the build-up with Miss Rain’s letters, I found the ending utterly disappointing—though I suspect this is to serve the book three in the series. This is not a book worth its hardcover price; I’d recommend readers to wait for the less-expensive paperback edition.