Mulch Ado About Nothing (Jane Jeffry Series #12)by Jill Churchill
Suburban mom Jane Jeffry and her equally green-thumbless best friend Shelley Nowack could kill plastic plants. But their scheme to improve themselves vegetatively dies on the vine when the celebrated botanist slated to teach a class at the local Community Center is mysteriously beaten into a coma and her replacement turns out to be Dr. Stewart Eastman, an
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Suburban mom Jane Jeffry and her equally green-thumbless best friend Shelley Nowack could kill plastic plants. But their scheme to improve themselves vegetatively dies on the vine when the celebrated botanist slated to teach a class at the local Community Center is mysteriously beaten into a coma and her replacement turns out to be Dr. Stewart Eastman, an arrogant, self-promoting boor. Did Dr. Eastman or a fellow classmate assault their original instructor? And who later plants a corpse in Eastman's compost heap? There's certainly an abundant crop of suspects. And it's up to Jane to weed out a killer.
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Note on Jane Jeffry's kitchen door:
Jane, you got flowers but you weren't home. I've got them. They're beautiful! Where are you?
Note on Shelley Nowack's kitchen door:
Shelley, just phoning in my summer PTA excuse. Couldn't hang up to answer the door when I was begging off. I want my flowers.
Note on Jane's kitchen door:
Just ran to drop off a couple books before the library police send out a squad car for them. What's the occasion for the flowers? I wouldn't dream of opening the card, of course.
Note on Shelley's door:
Had to drive to Jenny's house to give Katie lunch money. What kind of flowers? And don't you dare open the card!
Note on Jane's door:
Sorry, I wasn't gone. I was washing the dog after he got loose and rolled in something revolting. I want to know why you're getting flowers.
Note on Shelley's door:
I want to know, too. I've got to make a smash and grab at the grocery store or we'll have stale bread and crystallized jelly for dinner. Mike's getting cranky about having so much mac and cheese.
Note on Jane's door:
I haven't opened the note yet. But I've held it up to a strong light and the envelope is too thick to read through. I'm following you to the grocery store.
Note on Shelley's door:
Didn't you hear me honking at you in the parking lot? If you didn't drive twice the speed limit, I'd have caught up with you. So I came home and you aren't here. Do you have flower preservatives? They're goingto need it if I'm ever going to see them. I'm going to sit in a lawn chair in my driveway until you get home.
Jane didn't do quite what she'd threatened, but she settled in to read the paper on the top step of her kitchen-door deck. When Shelley's minivan turned in'not quite on two wheels, but almost'Jane flung down the paper. “Where are my flowers?” she demanded.
“In the kitchen,” Shelley said. “I'll fetch them for you. What are they for? Who are they from? What have you done to deserve flowers that I don't know about?”
“I have no idea,” Jane said. She hoisted herself up, grimacing at a twinge in her knee, and went into her house, leaving the door open for Shelley, who reappeared a moment later, almost concealed by a huge flower arrangement.
“Oh, they are beautiful!” she exclaimed as Shelley set them on the kitchen table.
“Read the card,” Shelley said, shoving it at Jane. The card looked a bit worn and was scorched on one corner. Jane started laughing. “What's so funny?” Shelley demanded.
“What a spy you'd make! You spent the day trying to find out what the message was and didn't read the envelope. The flowers are for Julie Jackson, that stylish woman who lives at the same number address as mine, but two blocks west. You know, the one who's doing that garden class we're starting on Monday.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, then Jane said, “Have you tried steaming the envelope open?”
Their “better selves” prevailed and they didn't steam open the envelope, but instead Shelley drove to Julie Jackson's house with Jane clutching the flower arrangement and sniffing the heady odor of the white lilies in it.
Shelley said, “You've got pollen from the lilies all over your face. You look jaundiced.”
Jane tried hanging on to the arrangement with one hand while hastily brushing her face off. “Better?” she asked, looking at her hands, which were bright orange with pollen.
Shelley had just turned the corner on the street they needed and slowed almost to a stop. “Jane, look.”
“Look? I can't even see around these flowers. What?”
“There's a police tape around Julie Jackson's yard. And three police cars and an ambulance.”
Shelley pulled over to the side of the street one house away. Jane got out and set the flower arrangement on the grass and dragged a tissue out of her pocket to wipe more pollen off her face. Two people came out of the house Jane and Shelley had been heading for. A woman who looked like Julie Jackson and a man who was a head taller than she and wearing a suit that looked too hot for such a warm day.
A uniformed police officer was following them, almost herding them out of the house. “Rats!” Jane said. “I just caught a glimpse of Mel inside that window by the door. What do you suppose is going on? And who are that couple?”
Shelley, having no more information than Jane, said nothing. They just stood there, transfixed and wondering what to do with the huge flower arrangement.
Detective Mel VanDyne had spotted Jane as well, and came out the front door a moment later. Scowling fiercely, he had a brief word with the unknown couple and the officer with them and turned and headed toward Jane and Shelley.
“What are you two doing here?” he snapped. “Gawking?”
He should have known from the sizzling silence that met this inquiry that he was going to be sorry for that remark. But he compounded the looming problem by adding in an unfortunately demanding tone, “Well?”
Jane said coldly, “I don't normally carry around a huge vase of florist flowers when I'm just out for a ‘gawk.' Perhaps you've noticed that about me over the years? These flowers,” she said, pointing at the arrangement, “were delivered to me by mistake and were meant for Julie Jackson. Shelley and I were merely bringing them to her.”
Shelley was about to butt in, but thought better of it. Jane was doing fine by herself. She picked up the flower arrangement and handed it to Mel.
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Meet the Author
Jill Churchill has won the Agatha and Macavity Mystery Readers awards and was nominated for an Anthony Award for her bestselling Jane Jeffry series. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed Grace and Favor mysteries and lives in the Midwest.
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The horticulture-based plot of Jill Churchill's 12th Jane Jeffry mystery is beyond light and verges into nothingness. This comes from a faithful reader who loved her early books (less so the recent ones). As usual, the repartee between Jane and nextdoor neighbor Shelley is amusing. But sleuthing is almost totally absent from this supposed mystery, which is disappointing. However my biggest beef is that the book itself is as thin as the plot. I discovered after buying it that 11 of its 216 pages are totally blank. Another eight only have a few lines. Under 200 pages for a $23 book is stingy. Unfortunately, the scanty page count suits this shallow effort.
A flower arrangement meant for Julie Jackson is accidentally delivered to Jane Jeffry. Living in the same neighborhood, Jane and her best friend Shelly Drover deliver the flowers to Jake. Upon arrival at his home, they find a 'crime scene' tape barring their way. Jane's police officer friend Mel informs the tow women that someone knocked out Jake in his basement office. Julie was supposed to teach a gardening class, but her injury precludes that from happening. Dr. Eastman conducts the session attended by Jane and Shelly. The students tour each other's gardens picking up tips along the way. When their teacher is found dead in his garden, Jane and Shelly begin an investigation into what is happening amidst the gardening set. MULCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a character-driven tale that is a bit short on plot, but huge on imagery and humor. The individual gardens are described so well that the audience will feel they are along on the tour. The killer is a shocker to those readers smelling the roses and not paying attention to the motives driving the characters. As usual, Jill Churchill provides her fans with a delightfully amusing novel. Harriet Klausner