Pruning the Dead

Pruning the Dead

by Julia Henry

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Overview

Post-retirement aches and pains can’t prevent sixty-five-year-old Lilly Jayne from keeping the most manicured garden in Goosebush, Massachusetts. But as a murder mystery blooms in the sleepy New England town, can a green thumb weed out a killer?
 
With hundreds flocking to her inaugural garden party, meticulous Lilly Jayne hasn’t left a single petal out of place. But the picture-perfect gathering turns unruly upon the arrival of Merilee Frank, Lilly’s ex-husband’s catty third wife. Merilee lives for trouble, so no one is surprised after she drinks too much, shoves a guest into the koi pond, and gets escorted off the property. The real surprise comes days later—when Merilee is found dead in a pile of mulch . . .
 
Lilly wishes she could stick to pruning roses and forget about Merilee’s murder—until her best friend and ex become suspects in an overgrown homicide case. Now, aided by the Garden Squad, an unlikely group of amateur crime solvers with a knack for planting, Lilly knows she has limited time to identify the true culprit and restore order to Goosebush. Because if the murderer’s plot isn’t nipped in the bud, another victim could be pushing up daisies!


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496714817
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 01/29/2019
Series: A Garden Squad Mystery Series , #1
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 185,893
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Julia Henry lives in Massachusetts, where she sets her mystery series. As Julianne Holmes she writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series, and as J.A. Hennrikus she writes the Theater Cop series. She blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors (WickedCozyAuthors.com) and Killer Characters (KillerCharacters.com), tweets as @JHAuthors, is on Instagram @JHAuthors, and on Facebook. Julie works in the arts, teaches, is a member of the Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime. For more, please visit JHAuthors.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Goosebush was a place where most residents preferred that folks from outside didn't know it existed. The town had squared-off borders on three sides. The fourth side encompassed the jagged coastline of the south shore of Massachusetts, including inlets and marshes, a small harbor, and the great Atlantic Ocean. The town was one of the first incorporated after the Pilgrims displaced the indigenous tribe off the land when they started to expand their settlements. The upper corner of Goosebush belonged to the tribe, a settlement of sorts that the town had arrived at after years of legal and moral delays were finally resolved at the turn of the last century. At that time, the land seemed to be useful for its views only, since it was surrounded by water, and it felt the force of Mother Nature too often to make investments in infrastructure make much sense. But in recent years, the folks who still lived on the spit of land had reseeded oyster beds and leased a portion of the bayside beach to a research institution in Boston. That thrust of activity put Goosebush in the news for a bit, a state that made a few folks cranky, but that storm soon passed.

Unlike other towns that required and benefited from being historical sites and tourist destinations, Goosebush did not. Not that there wasn't a rich history — there was — and the folks who volunteered in the Goosebush Historical Society were more than pleased to talk about that to anyone who came by during their office hours in the town library twice a month. But there were no scheduled tours or town reenactments or guidebooks available. That wasn't the Goosebush way. It made planning the quadricentennial celebrations, which were two years away, challenging. To say the least.

Besides, there are some disparities with the history. "Facts are facts, but the truth depends on the teller," the late Alan McMillan used to say. He'd married into Goosebush when he fell in love with Lilly, a descendant of one of the original settlers of the town. For many generations, the Jayne family was property rich and cash poor. But the most recent descendant, Lillian Rose Jayne, changed that by establishing herself in the finance industry, making her family and many others extremely wealthy. The Jayne family, like many Yankee families, did not flaunt their wealth. But neither did they hide it if you took a good look around Windward, their family home.

The center of Goosebush was a rotary — called a roundabout or a circle in other parts of the country and known as the Wheel in Goosebush — from which well-traveled roads flowed, each of which ended in a rotary themselves. Someone had suggested they looked a bit like a flower, when all the side roads were included, so each road was called a petal. The southern petal led to Route 3. It was mostly residential, with a couple of churches settled along it. The east petal led to the shoreline and the town beaches. North was a shortened petal, due to the filling in of a marsh years ago that resulted in a lumberyard being located there, blocking the road. The Frank family had run the lumber business for years. Pete Frank Junior, PJ to most people, had struggled in recent years to keep the business running, but thanks to some new investors, he was on his feet again. Good thing. The lumberyard employed twenty people — not insignificant in a town of Goosebush's size.

The north petal was the main drag of Goosebush and included the most desired addresses in town. It ended in the Wheel, which was as close to a commercial district as Goosebush got. The Wheel, short for Captain's Wheel, included access to the police station, hardware store (Bits, Bolts & Bulbs), Paul's Grocery Store, and Spencer's Package Store. Directly on the Wheel was the Star Café, the post office, a real estate office, the local pharmacy, and a gas station. There wasn't a single national chain store in Goosebush. Folks liked it that way.

Schools, restaurants, and other stores were between the petals. On the north petal there was one spot, across from the boatyard, with an unobstructed view of the harbor and a distant ocean view. It was a triple lot raised higher than its neighbors, set back from the street edge. If you were new to town, you could be forgiven for not thinking there was a house up there at all, so difficult was it to see from the street and through the perfectly maintained privet hedge. But Windward was there, behind the reinforced stone wall. It was named after the ship of a very long ago Jayne relative. Access to the house and garage were granted through a gap in the wall and an electric gate. Not that it was used much. At least not much these past few years.

But today the gate would be open, as would the front door. Today Lilly Jayne was hosting a garden party, and she had invited over a hundred people to come. Lilly's friend and housemate, Delia, suspected double that number would show up, since guests would likely bring their curious friends as their plus ones. Lilly thought the number was more likely to be close to fifty. Considering that her best friend Tamara's family counted as ten people, including the grandchildren, Lilly was showing a pessimism her young friend did not share. The women split the difference and ordered enough food for a hundred people, but only after Delia assured Lilly she had found a place to donate the leftovers.

CHAPTER 2

Lilly was wrestling with a rosebush in her back garden. Well, not actually the rosebush. The weeds from her next-door neighbor's overgrown garden had begun to creep over the garden wall, through her privet hedges, and into her rosebushes. Lilly hoped that the new owners cared about getting their garden under control, and soon. Rumor had it that they were moving in this weekend. Lilly would give them a day, maybe two, to settle in, and then go over to discuss the matter and offer help. She'd take blueberry cake with her. Delia's blueberry cake might win them over, even if her "gardens being a reflection of the soul of a home" argument did not. If nothing else, the food would help mitigate her cranky Yankee demeanor. Lilly was aware that she could be a formidable presence, and when she was younger, she had tried to mitigate that. Ever since she'd turned sixty, though, she didn't worry about it as much. As long as she had kindness in her heart, and she usually did, she didn't worry about how people perceived her. In fact, keeping folks off balance gave her tremendous pleasure.

She finally beat back the weeds and backed out of the bush slowly. She straightened up carefully and stretched backward, loosening her joints as best she could. Next, she rotated her hips back and forth a bit. Back in the day, she would get down on her knees, squat, stand up, and bend in all directions with great ease and no aftereffects. She was still in good shape for a woman in her mid-sixties, but she was a woman of a certain age. Attention must be paid, and her back appreciated her concern.

Lilly looked down at her arms. Minor scratches. She wasn't going to stay out much longer. There was just a bit more cleaning up that needed to be done in the garden before the party. The party. How did she ever let Tamara and Delia talk her into this?

"It will be good for you," Tamara had said, when she'd first brought the idea up to Lilly. "Let folks know you're back."

"Back from where? I grew up in this house. I traveled a lot in the past, but I've stayed put for the past few years." Since Alan got sick was the unsaid explanation.

"I was being metaphorical, Lilly. I meant you're back among society. And it's about time."

"Don't sugarcoat it, Tamara."

"I never do," Tamara said. "Do I, Delia?"

"No, you don't. That's one of my favorite things about you," Delia said. Delia had been Lilly's husband Alan's, graduate assistant. When he first got sick and everyone assumed he'd bounce back, Delia had helped him keep up with his class preparation and grading. After a few months, when it became clear he wasn't going to get better, he'd taken a leave from the university, but Delia hadn't taken a leave from Alan. She still came by every day to visit, caught him up on gossip, and supported Lilly however she could. Delia also helped Alan with his research, which allowed him to get most of the work done on his final book.

Delia was a brilliant researcher but did not get along with many people. Lilly and Alan were exceptions. When Alan died two years ago, Delia moved into the house, getting room and board in exchange for helping Lilly with repairs, shopping, and running the household. Alan had suggested the arrangement, knowing that the house was too big for Lilly to live in alone. It was the last kind thing that Alan had done for Lilly after twenty years of marital bliss. The women had become great friends despite their forty-year age gap.

Lilly took the pile of weeds and added them to the paper bag she'd been filling all day. Normally she liked to compost, but these weeds were insidious. Better to take them to the town compost pile, where they couldn't spread back into her garden. She ran her hands down the front of her legs. She was tired, but it was a good tired. The gardens were coming back after a couple of years of neglect. Some of the flowering bushes made her fight for their love, refusing to bud last summer after she'd neglected them all spring. She'd won them back over by protecting them with hay and burlap over the winter and feeding them her special fertilizer mix as soon as the ground began to thaw. She looked around and saw the color forcing itself out of the tips of the branches. She'd be rewarded with flowers this spring and summer. Her garden was welcoming her back. They were both coming to life.

There was always something to be done in the garden, which is one of the reasons she loved it. Her backyard was never going to be perfect, but she knew her attentions would pay off. Some of the time, the work she did was more of a long-term investment, like the herb garden she'd just put in and the tomato seedlings she was nurturing in the greenhouse. But sometimes, like today, the rewards were immediate. Weeds were gone. Mulch was down. The gardens looked beautiful and befitting the house they adorned.

Windward had been built over one hundred and fifty years ago. It was, at the time, the largest house in town, a Victorian monstrosity inside with elaborate gardens surrounding it. For many years, the inside of the house faded in glory, but the Jayne family always kept up with the outside. Lilly believed that gardens weren't just decorative, they were a life force. It didn't escape her notice that every member of the Jayne family died during the dead of winter, when gardens were fallow. Even Alan had rallied through the blooming season despite his illness. Sitting on the back porch, looking at the gardens, had been a tonic for him; he'd told her that every day when she took a break and went up to hold his hand while sipping her iced tea.

Lilly missed those days, hard as it had been watching the love of her life disappear. She looked over at the koi pond she'd created in his memory. Having one of his favorite statues in the middle — a modern piece made of twisted steel that looked a little like a woman from a certain angle — made her smile. She'd hated the piece when he'd bought it from a former student and had relegated it to the side of the house for years. He'd insisted on putting his hammock where he could see it. "It reminds me of you, Lilly, my love," he'd always say. Now it reminded her of him and had a place of honor in the center of her magnificent backyard.

"Earth to Lilly. Where were you?" Delia Greenway bounded down the stairs carrying two large glasses of an indefinable liquid. Delia didn't often see Lilly daydreaming. She stepped down, stood next to Lilly, and followed her gaze. Alan's pond, of course. Alan's memory still loomed large for both women. Delia hip-checked Lilly lightly and handed her a glass. "You've been out here a long time. The midday sun is strong, even if it doesn't feel it. Where's your hat?" Lilly took a tentative sip and smiled in relief.

Lavender lemonade. Phew. Lilly elected to ignore the green tint. Delia had been given to creating drink concoctions that she promised would cure whatever ailed Lilly and prevent what didn't. Some of them were delicious. Others were bracing. A few were not potable, though Delia insisted Lilly drink up. She'd only do so if Delia matched her sip for sip. Battles of will were commonplace in the Jayne house. They always had been.

"I'm coming in soon," Lilly said. "I found a few weeds that I'd missed earlier in the week."

"The weeds are growing quickly this spring, even if the rest of the plants aren't." Both women looked around. The winter had been long and brutal. Spring was always a loosely defined term in New England, but this spring had been cold and damp. Lilly knew that real spring and summer would eventually arrive, but she had to agree. That bright green surge had yet to happen.

"I think we're ready for tomorrow, don't you?" Lilly said. The party was planned for Saturday afternoon, when the sun would be warm enough for people to be outside and enjoy the gardens. Lilly had obsessively been checking the weather, and it seemed like it was going to cooperate.

"We are. Tamara is coming over in the late morning to help us set up. Tables and linens were delivered a little while ago."

"Really? Oh dear, I didn't hear the bell. Good thing you were home."

"Friday is a half day," Delia said. Delia was still working on her masters at the university but hadn't found another mentor like Alan. Her graduate assistantship hadn't been renewed, and she was taking one class each semester. Lilly had offered to help her pay for school, but Delia had resisted. Both women were stubborn, one of the reasons they got along so well.

"Well, good thing you were here. I'm hopeless, aren't I? I lose track of everything when I'm in the garden."

"You've got the magic touch out here. That takes concentration."

Lilly smiled and nodded her thanks. "I'm thinking about putting more container gardens around the yard this summer," Lilly said. "A couple of varieties of mint, rosemary, thyme. Anything else you need for those concoctions of yours?"

"I knew I'd win you over. Don't wince like that; they're good for you. I've got a list of plants upstairs I'd love to be able to use," Delia said. She ran her finger around the condensation on her glass, not looking up. "Hey, Lil, I have a friend who could source some interesting planters for you to look at. He was telling me about them yesterday. Concrete. They're made by a local artist who's trying to figure out ways to make money with his art. If you like them, it could help him build up his confidence and maybe build his business."

"Then by all means, I'm happy to take a look," Lilly said. "I love the idea of more art in the garden."

"Thanks, Lilly." Delia looked around and had to smile. The garden had dozens of nooks and crannies with statues, painted tiles, trellises, planters, and benches that were unlike anything she'd ever seen in another garden. She knew that Lilly liked to rotate items. She'd helped her more than once, but only moving the heavy things. Deciding where things should go was not Delia's forte. If it was up to Delia, she'd line everything up in even rows and group items by color. Lilly's artistic eye was second only to her gardening skills.

Maybe third. Lilly's ability to help folks — or put things right, as she said — was her best skill, in Delia's opinion. She'd known Lilly would be willing to help her artist friend. She also knew that her friend would never feel like he was on the receiving end of charity or that his talent wasn't appreciated.

"Your phone's been ringing off the hook," Delia said. She pulled the house phone out of her pocket to hand it to Lilly, who ignored it.

"Let it go to voice mail. And stay there, for all I care. The only people who call the house phone are bill collectors, people who found my number on voter rolls, and acquaintances to whom I have not given my cell phone number." Lilly moved her hips around in a figure eight and stretched backward as far as she could, which wasn't far.

"Lil, how come you're moving your hips like that? You okay? I told you to take it easy."

"I'm hardly an invalid," Lilly said, stiffening her spine a bit. Lilly was proud that she still measured five feet ten inches tall, even now, when many of her friends had lost an inch or two. She kept active, did yoga, and ate reasonably well. Except for Delia's baked goods. Cookies were her biggest vice, and one she had no plans to give up. Life was too short. Way too short.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Pruning the Dead"
by .
Copyright © 2019 J. A. Hennrikus.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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