Picking up from an unfinished manuscript of his late father, Graham Gordon Landrum, Robert Graham Landrum follows the further adventures of the ladies of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the quiet little town of Borderville, Tennessee.
When Mrs. Marguerite Claymore, a leading horticulturist, is found bludgeoned to death in her garden, the residents of Borderville are up in arms. A respected member of society noted for her many contributions, Mrs. Claymore seems to have been the least likely candidate for such a terrible crime.
It appears that Mrs. Claymore interrupted a thief in the process of looting her house. A teenage boy stands accused of the crime, and his family enlists the spunky octogenarian sleuth Harriet Bushrow to clear his name. Harriet soon finds several people from Mrs. Claymore's past who may have had a reason to do away with the often cantankerous and dictatorial old woman. A string of unsolved robberies may also be connected.
In The Garden Club Mystery, Robert Landrum pays a unique tribute to his father by co-creating the magic of the fictional town of Borderville and its much-loved characters.
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About the Author
Graham Gordon Landrum was for many years a professor of English at King College in Bristol, Tennessee, and in his retirement he developed the Borderville series of mystery novels that begins with The Famous DAR Murder Mystery. At the time of his death in 1995, he had completed half of The Garden Club Mystery.
Robert Graham Landrum, son of the late Graham Landrum, was born in the town of Bristol. He received a B.S. in mathematics and physics from King College and now serves as a software developer at Trident Data Systems. His home is in San Antonio, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
The Garden Club Mystery
By Graham Gordon Landrum, Robert Graham Landrum
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Graham Gordon Landrum
All rights reserved.
The Corpse in the Garden
It was Saturday morning, the first week in June. Late the previous evening the ladies had got back from their fancy flower show in Knoxville. I don't understand all that I'm told about garden clubs; but my wife, Leota, tells me there are eighteen of them in the two Bordervilles — that's TN 37620 and VA 24201. And when there is a big flower show somewhere or other, perhaps as many as a hundred households in both cities go into a condition of earthquake, tornado, and air attack combined.
Leota belongs to the Buena Vista Club. The girls are awfully proud of that club because it is the oldest on either side of the state line. There are just two ways to get into that high and mighty bunch: you have to be a daughter of a member, or you have to know how to grow flowers. Leota got in by the second route.
That gal can make anything grow. I don't care if it's begonias or petunias or rolmarastrums — she can make it grow. I swear, if she would just plant an old juice can, an aluminum plant would come up.
Anyhow, she has delphiniums that bloom on those long stalks, and I'd say she had fifty to a hundred of them.
Well, Rita Claymore — the kind of woman that has to be commander in chief of any club she may belong to — wanted Leota's delphiniums for a big arrangement she was planning for the showdown at Knoxville; and whatever Rita wants, that's what she gets. So, those delphiniums were one reason why Leota got picked to be among the charmed number that represented the glorious Buena Vista Club at the grand Knoxville show and banquet.
The other reason was the fact that Leota had transportation facilities that none of the other ladies had. That is to say, I have a van; and since I have an obliging nature, I find that I am pretty generally called on by friends and others for hauling things of odd shapes and sizes. That's how I got mixed up in The Historical Society Murder Mystery, when Mrs. Delaporte sent me to pick up the portrait of King Louis-Philippe of France that Mrs. Chamberlain had willed to the society. But this time, because Mrs. Claymore was using Leota's delphiniums in her grand "arrangement" and for that reason Leota was invited to go along — but really because the other ladies were going down there in Mrs. Claymore's Lincoln and wouldn't have room for the stuff that would go into the arrangements — Leota had to drive my van down to Knoxville and fetch the residue back home after the show.
I told Leota the club was taking advantage of her. But she said I didn't know what I was talking about, and if I was going to be like that, she would just as soon I would shut up.
The Buena Vista Club received some kind of honor, and Leota was mighty pleased about it when she pulled in home about eleven-thirty Friday night. The banquet had been a big success, and several people had remarked on Leota's delphiniums — wondered how she got them to grow so large and so on.
As a matter of fact, she had the famous "arrangement" in the back of the van and wondered if I would take it to Mrs. Claymore the next morning.
It is amazing how a little thing leads to a big thing — not to say that I realized then that those flowers were the little thing. When I looked in the van that Saturday morning, I had to admit — even if they were beginning to look a little forlorn here and there — those flowers were something to behold. They were in the biggest silver punch bowl I ever saw — property of Rita Claymore — and by the time she got all those spikes of Leota's delphiniums stuck in there along with some kind of ivy and a lot of things I don't even know the names of, my van was just about full of "arrangement." So, after breakfast, about nine-thirty, I lit out in the van with Buena Vista's prize-winning exhibit as a kind of personal backdrop behind me, and off I went to return Mrs. Claymore's creation to her.
Rita Claymore lives in the old family place. It is not quite a mansion, but a big, roomy house, built maybe in the 1890s. Old Adam McDurrie, Rita's grandfather, had the coffin works here. The works burned down years and years ago, but you used to be able to see the chimney and some rusty bits of machinery in a field down by the railroad tracks. Anyhow, the McDurrie family had a nice little sum of money, and their house was what the town had a right to expect of them.
Now we will have to admit that there are bigger houses on Cherry Street alongside Rita's place, but the yard is at least half again as large as anything else along that street. And the yard has always been something to point out as far back as I can remember.
I stopped the van in the driveway, went to the front door, and rang the bell.
I waited and rang again. I couldn't hear the bell.
Thinking that it might be out of order, I opened the screen door and knocked.
"Mrs. Claymore? Mrs. Claymore?" I called. I listened, but there wasn't a sound in the house.
Now, since Rita had told Leota that she would be at home all morning, Leota had not seen fit to call Rita and tell her I was on the way; and I did not want to spend the day hauling Rita's "arrangement" between our house and hers. No way would I have thought of leaving that silver punch bowl on Rita's front porch. No, sir! There has been so much theft and such going on in Borderville, I was going to treat the "arrangement" and that silver tub like registered mail.
So I went back to the driveway, carrying — or trying to carry — that big punch bowl with all those delphiniums sticking out of it. There was water sloshing, too, enough to make the "arrangement" the devil to carry.
The back door was open.
I set down the flowers.
I knocked and hollered.
"Mrs. Claymore? Mrs. Claymore? It's me, Bob Kelsey!"
There was as much going on in that house as you could expect in a country cemetery at six o'clock in the morning.
Thinking that Rita Claymore was on the place somewhere, I decided it would be all right to set the bowl and the flowers just inside the door and go about my business.
I'm afraid I disarranged the arrangement a bit, but you can't expect to carry a thing like that in your arms very far and have it look "apple pie" when you finally set it down.
Then I figured it out. The president of the Garden Club would be in the garden. I would poke myself around the corner, tell Rita what I had done with her bowl, and get to see the place that Leota went on about so much — most of which appeared to be on the other side of the house.
Because what I was about to see is important if you are going to understand what happened, you had better look at the map of the Claymore property that appears facing page 1.
Bordering the side and back of the property is a high board fence with a small gate at the rear, opening to the alley. The fence is painted gray and is almost hidden by the laurel and rhododendron bushes next to it. There is precious little grass in the yard and only one tree, a weeping willow that hangs over a small fish pond. All the rest is flowers — most of them blooming. I could hear bees humming, and now and then see one dart off for the hive.
I followed the brick walk around the corner of the house and paused there. I couldn't even try to tell the names of all the flowers, but they were everywhere. It just seemed to be all one bed with brick walks running through it. The thought in my mind for a minute was that this woman's thumb was even greener than Leota's.
Then suddenly my attention was caught by something I could not believe. In among those flowers of different colors and different heights lay the body of a woman — face-down.
I went immediately to her, and bending down, called her name:
"Mrs. Claymore! Mrs. Claymore!"
She was wearing faded blue work pants and a tan shirt. She had on old work gloves — leather gloves, the kind that mean business. At the very back of her head there was a nasty gash that had bled enough to mat the hair back there.
But the unusual thing — and the thing the coroner was going to say killed her — was the fact that her face was buried in a pile of very dry, dusty peat moss.
Of course, I turned her over immediately. But there was not the slightest doubt that she was dead and had been so for more than just a few minutes.
As I turned to go back into the house and call the police, I noticed in the flowers just beyond the body a concrete squirrel — a garden knickknack that seemed to have been thrown or used otherwise to cause that wound at the back of Mrs. Claymore's skull.
I went into the house and found the telephone and the police number along with some others on a card taped to the table beside it. (I realized only later that this qualified as an emergency, and I could have used just "911.")
After I put in the call, I went back outside. I didn't mess around with the "crime scene." But it looked to me like I wouldn't be hurting anything if I stayed on the brick walk.
Pretty soon I heard the police car come up, and here came Don Cochran — the detective who had worked on the Historical Society case. He had another officer, a young fellow named Dave Banks. As soon as they saw me, they came and looked at the body. Don had me explain just the things that I have written so far in this chapter.
Banks had his camera and took about twenty pictures from every angle.
"You say you opened the screen door and put something inside?"
"Yes — a silver punch bowl with delphiniums and some other stuff in it," I said.
He didn't seem to be impressed one way or the other.
"Did you touch anything in the house?"
"Only the phone — nothing else. And, of course, the screen door."
He told me to sit in my van until he could finish his work at the crime scene and make a preliminary inspection in the house.
I saw then that he suspected robbery, though I could not see why anybody would try a thing like that in daylight.
By the time I got back to my van and got settled, the neighborhood had found out that the police were at the Claymore place. A second police car had just driven up, and patrolmen were warning a small crowd off the property.
Then a reporter from the Banner-Democrat showed up. Someone in the crowd pointed at me. The reporter, a fellow I didn't recognize, came over and began shooting questions at me. He didn't let up until the ambulance arrived and two men carried a stretcher to the side yard. After that, the Banner-Democrat lost interest in me and trotted off to get a photo of the corpse being taken away.
In about twenty minutes, Don Cochran came from around the corner of the house and told me to follow him to the police station. There I went over my story again. It was taken down and typed, and I signed it.
By the time I got home, it was almost twelve o'clock. Leota had already heard the news. The telephone lines must have been hot.
She looked at me and shook her head — as though it were my fault.
"Now, you just stay out of this from now on," she warned. "And don't you let Harriet Bushrow get you tangled up in this kind of thing the way she did last time."
She was talking about the Historical Society case, when I was in a bad car accident and Mrs. Bushrow might have been killed because I wasn't there when she needed me. But I didn't see how either I or Mrs. Bushrow could have any possible connection with the death of Rita Claymore. And in fact, it was quite some time before I came into the picture again.
The High Point of the Mountains June 7, 1998
Society Matron Murdered
The body of Mrs. Marguerite Claymore, noted horticulturist and society leader, was discovered in the garden of her home, 403 Cherry Street, at ten o'clock Saturday morning by Robert R. Kelsey. Mrs. Claymore had been struck from behind with a concrete garden ornament and was dead when found.
Upon being summoned, the police immediately cordoned off the crime scene. Lt. Don Cochran, the officer in charge of the investigation, refused to release any details.
Kelsey, however, explained that he was attempting to return a silver punch bowl and some flowers to Mrs. Claymore when he found the body. The flowers had been part of a display presented by the Buena Vista Garden Club at an annual convention in Knoxville.
Honored the Previous Evening
Mrs. Claymore, well known for her involvement in the campaign for "A More Beautiful Borderville," had been honoree at the banquet of the Associated Garden Clubs of East Tennessee only the night before her untimely death.
Mrs. Arthur T. Wetson, friend of the dead woman and fellow member of the Buena Vista Club, when contacted by the Banner-Democrat, stated that she and others had returned with Mrs. Claymore from Knoxville late Friday night and, when last seen, her friend had been in good health.
"Rita was tired," Wetson reported, "but she was in no way nervous or apprehensive. We are all tremendously shocked."
At press time, police would only confirm that their investigation was ongoing.
Borderville Banner-Democrat, June 7, 1998 A3
Marguerite McDurrie Claymore, 68, of Borderville, Tennessee, died Saturday, June 6, at her home. She was a native of this city and had lived her entire life here. She was a member of First Presbyterian Church, the YWCA, the Wednesday Study Club, the Rebels' Mountain Chapter, NSDAR, and the Buena Vista Garden Club.
Mrs. Claymore will be specially remembered for her efforts for "A More Beautiful Borderville," a program instituted by her in 1982 which has resulted in the planting of over 1,000 flowering shrubs and plants in city parks and in the median of Watauga Avenue. She also is responsible for beautifying the courtyard at the Borderville Public Library.
Mrs. Claymore was the granddaughter of Adam McDurrie, local industrialist, and is survived by one sister, Mrs. Viola McDurrie Coleport; one niece, Mrs. Grace Hannah; and one grand-nephew.
McArens Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.CHAPTER 2
Investigation of the Death of Mrs. Marguerite McDurrie Claymore
I am writing this at the request of Mr. Robert Kelsey. I have been acquainted with him for many years, having been a member of the same church and knowing him when he worked at the Borderville Post Office. One year ago he was very useful to the police in recovering a stolen portrait of the French king Louis-Philippe valued at above a million dollars and in apprehending the murderer of Mr. Randol Hartwell. In view of his assistance to the force in the past as well as his aid in the present case, the Police Department has permitted me to supply a report of my activities in the matter of the death of Mrs. Marguerite Claymore for inclusion in this book.
* * *
Having received Mr. Kelsey's call from the residence of Mrs. Claymore at 10:15 A.M., Sergeant Dave Banks and myself proceeded to the Claymore residence immediately and arrived at approximately 10:25. Mr. Kelsey was the only individual on the premises at that time.
The deceased was lying face-up in a flower bed on the west side of the residence, the corpse having been turned over by Mr. Kelsey in an effort to ascertain the deceased's condition. The body was dressed in blue jeans, tan blouse, and sneakers. There were leather work gloves on the hands, and a residue of dusty brown material was evident on the face and upper body. Mr. Kelsey informed me that the material was peat moss, a material used by gardeners as a fertilizer. He assured me that other than turning the body in search of signs of life, he had in no way disturbed anything at the crime scene.
Mr. Kelsey gave me a full and accurate account of his activities in the vicinity of the crime. I directed him to sit in his van while Sergeant Banks and myself continued our examination of the scene.
Death appeared to have been caused by suffocation, occasioned when the deceased, having been knocked unconscious, fell face-down into a small pile of dry peat moss. The weapon with which the deceased appeared to have been attacked was a concrete garden ornament in the shape of a squirrel, weighing approximately eight pounds. This object was lying in a flower bed approximately two feet from the original position of the corpse.
The brick walk was clean and dry, revealing no traces. No footprints other than those of the deceased were discovered in any of the flower beds in the neighborhood of the body.
I instructed Sergeant Banks to photograph the crime scene and directed my attention to the house.
Entering through the open back door, I found myself in a hall running all the way through the house and containing a stairway. To the right, I observed a door leading to a large kitchen. To the left, a door opened on a bedroom. The bed was made and the room was in order except that a garment bag was lying over the back of an armchair by one of the windows and a blue suitcase was setting on a blanket chest at the foot of the bed.
Upon entering the kitchen, I observed a small breakfast table covered with a plastic cloth. This table had been cleared, and one chair was setting beside it.
Excerpted from The Garden Club Mystery by Graham Gordon Landrum, Robert Graham Landrum. Copyright © 1998 Graham Gordon Landrum. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I: The Corpse in the Garden,
II: Investigation of the Death of Mrs. Marguerite McDurrie Claymore,
III: The Claymore Feud,
IV: At It Again,
V: Shot Down,
VII: June Meeting of the Buena Vista Garden Club,
VIII: The Gertrude Morrison Suggs Bible Class,
IX: My Tennis Bracelet and Other Things,
X: Investigation of the Frothmore Robbery,
XI: I Meet the Reverend Alec Boheem,
XII: The Value of Recycling,
XIII: Return to the Scene of the Crime,
XIV: The Ground Brings Forth More Than Flowers,
XV: Win Some, Lose Some,
XVI: Sound the Alarm,
XVII: The July Meeting,
XVIII: Pennies from Heaven,
XIX: The Command Post Is Set Up,
XXI: Mission Begun,
XXII: Talking to the Plants,
XXIII: I Have a Talk with Viola Coleport,
XXIV: Bits and Bytes,
XXV: The Tangled Web,
XXVI: In the Rose Garden,
XXVII: The End of It All,
By Graham Gordon Landrum,