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Alyse Carlson at a recent bookstore appearance.

What’s A Little Murder Among Friends?

Camellia Harris, my sleuth in The Garden Society Mysteries set in Roanoke, Virginia, has a sidekick, as is the tradition in Cozy Mysteries, but Cam has a little sumpin sumpin that I haven’t seen much of, so I thought I’d talk a bit about the TEAM. Each of Cam’s friends has a role that has propelled the sleuthing forward… or hindered it… depending on the book and the preconceptions of that particular character in that particular situation.

The overall dynamic though, is FUN. So I wanted to give you all a mini-intro to the “Fearless Foursome.”

Cam:  Cam Harris is a practical, hard-working girl. She fell in love with gardening as a child because her mother was an avid gardener, and professionally, she has gone into public relations, so she feels extremely lucky to be working managing public relations for the Roanoke Garden Society (of which her deceased mother was a founding member).  Cam’s primary character flaw is also her greatest professional asset—she tends to spin things into the best light, so the lines of truth are just a little bit fuzzy—but she is a loyal friend and family member, and she is smart and willing to do what is necessary when those she loves inevitably find themselves in trouble.

Annie: Some serious, practical people really NEED someone in their life who is sort of goofy, willing to push the boundaries, and who just urges them to laugh more and take life a little less seriously. For Cam, this is Annie. Cam and Annie have been best friends since middle school and Annie is the Yin to Cam’s Yang. They are outwardly opposite, but fit together perfectly as friends. Cam likes to plan. Annie improvises. Cam is tidy, Annie is a tornado. Cam generally follows the rules and Annie has burned the rulebook. She doesn’t endorse such nonsense.

Rob: is Cam’s long-time boyfriend. He is a sports reporter, but of late he has managed to get the scoop on a couple murder stories. Cam and Rob met at a Young Media Professionals meeting (in fact more details to this story appear in this book), and Rob and Cam have a fair bit in common. They are both driven and ambitious, both have the ‘snoop bug’ (or they wouldn’t have gone into their fields) and they both enjoy figuring out a puzzle. The place they come into conflict is that Cam has a vested interest in the story flattering her client, where Rob’s interest is always in the truth. As a sports reporter, Rob is also an athlete, though only for fun these days, but his speed and agility have not gone amiss in this series.

Jake: Joaquin Moreno, or Jake, was originally just a teammate of Rob’s on their city league baseball team, but as a police officer, during the first murder Cam encountered, he ended up a helpful friend or foil, depending on the moment, and in the end he was Annie’s boyfriend, so he’s been integrated into the group. Of the group, Jake most often plays Cam’s foil, as he doesn’t like the amateurs sleuthing, but he has good resources when he can be convinced, and Annie knows how to convince him to help now and then. Besides that, Cam acknowledges that Jake is good for Annie—he cares about her and is good to her, providing some much-needed grounding.

The Joys and Challenges of Sleuthing by Committee

I think with this many players involved, it has opened up doors for VARIETY in sources and clues. Both Rob and Jake have legitimate sources because of their careers, and Annie, the sneak, can sometimes get her hands on information she really shouldn’t have, which leaves Cam to ask questions, but gives her some other tools in her box, too. It also means more can be communicated through dialog, which I enjoy [especially the Cam/Annie dialog—that stuff is a hoot to write].

On the other hand it also provides some challenges in ‘directing’ [wait, did he know that yet?] and figuring out ways to make sure everyone is informed without repeating the story three times.

Overall though, I hope this set of characters is one that most readers can say, “I’d really like to hang out with these guys for a while.” I know I would, though honestly, Annie channels my online persona and two people together with that inability to behave are surely asking for trouble.


Keeping Mum is the third book in The Garden Society Cozy Mystery Series.  Alyse Carlson is the pen name for Hart Johnson. Alyse writes books from her bathtub. A social scientist by day, Hart spends her evenings plotting grand conspiracies and murdering people on paper. You can learn more about her at her blog: http://waterytart23.blogspot.com/

**GWN’s Review of “Keeping Mum”**

9780425252062_medium_Keeping_MumKeeping Mum

A Garden Society Mystery

By Alyse Carlson

Berkley Prime Crime Mystery

Mass Paperback, 294 pages

$7.99 US

A murder mystery theme seems to be an ideal event for a political fundraiser set in Roanoke, Virginia. Organizing the event is Camellia Harris of the Roanoke Garden Society. From the start, Cam is against mixing politics with garden club member events, but Samantha Hollister and former Virginia Senator Holden Hobbs are sponsoring the event. Jared Koontz may very well announce his candidacy for the Virginia State Senate.

Lending  a hand in the planning of this event is Joel Jaimeson, Samantha’s event planner and Cam’s friend, Annie, who is a senator’s daughter.

While the murder mystery is playing out as it was scripted, one of the guests is really murdered. Derrick Windermere is far from loved. His fortune was made on renovating foreclosures and then flipping them. Now, the only thing that is going to be flipped is the page his obit is on. Adding to the mystery is Senator Alden Schulz’s mysterious disappearance. The senator is Annie’s father.

Keeping Mum was a bit more complicated a mystery than I’m use to. The amateur sleuths had several directions to investigate involving politics, illegal actions, connections, truth and trust. The author navigates you down several possibilities and then says “sorry, wrong way.” She kept my interest, but I had to take notes to remember all the different pieces of the puzzle. I would think a Women’s Voter’s League would be more involved in politics then a garden club, but voters come from all walks of life and have various interests. I liked the fact that the author kept me guessing. I wanted to follow Cam and her friends to see if they could find Annie’s father and learn more than the authorities. I did worry about their safety, considering they took more than a few chances.

Four pots of chrysanthemums out of five

Denise Fleischer


March 5, 2014