NYT bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert returns to Depression-era Darling, Alabama . . . where the ladies of the Dahlias, the local garden club, are happy to dig a little dirt! In the seventh book of this popular series, it looks like the music has ended for Darling’s favorite barbershop quartet, the Lucky Four Clovers—just days before the Dixie Regional Barbershop Competition. Another unlucky break: a serious foul-up in Darling’s telephone system—and not a penny for repairs. And while liquor is legal again, moonshine isn’t. Sheriff Buddy Norris needs a little luck when he goes into Briar Swamp to confront Cypress County’s most notorious bootlegger. What he finds upends his sense of justice. Once again, Susan Wittig Albert has told a charming story filled with richly human characters who face the Great Depression with courage and grace. She reminds us that friends offer the best of themselves to each other, community is what holds us together, and luck is what you make it.Bonus features: Liz Lacy’s Garden Gate column on “lucky” plants, plus the Dahlias’ collection of traditional Southern pie recipes and a dash of cookery history. Reading group questions, more recipes, and Depression-era info @www.DarlingDahlias.com “Captivating . . . Charming characters, a fast-paced plot, and a strong sense of history help make this a superior cozy.” —Publishers Weekly “The author of the popular China Bayles mysteries brings a small Southern town to life and vividly captures an era and culture—the Depression, segregation, class differences, the role of women in the South—with authentic period details. Her book fairly sizzles with the strength of the women of Darling.” —Library Journal Starred Review
About the Author
Susan Wittig Albert is the NYT bestselling author of over 100 books. Her work includes four mystery series: China Bayles, the Darling Dahlias, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and the Robin Paige Victorian mysteries. She has published three award-winning historical novels, as well as YA fiction, memoirs, and nonfiction. Susan currently serves as an editor of StoryCircleBookReviews and helps to coordinate SCN's online class program. She and her husband Bill live in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes, gardens, and raises a varying assortment of barnyard creatures.
Date of Birth:1940
Place of Birth:Danville, Illinois
Education:Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley
Read an Excerpt
THE LUCKY FOUR CLOVERS
Friday, October 12, 1934
I'm looking over a four-leaf clover I overlooked before.
No need explaining The one remaining is somebody I adore.
Lyrics by Mort Dixon Music by Harry M. Woods, 1927
It was raining cats and dogs on the evening of the show, but that didn't keep Darling from turning out in a big crowd — especially since the program was free. All the seats were taken in the basement meeting hall of the First Methodist Church, and Reverend Dooley, greeting folks at the door, was heard to mutter "Shoulda sold tickets." Donations had been encouraged, though, and almost everybody contributed a store-bought can or a quart jar of home-canned vegetables to the Darling Blessing Box, the contents of which would be distributed to folks who needed a little extra boost.
Everybody always looked forward to the show put on each October by the Lucky Four Clovers, Darling's acclaimed men's barbershop group. During the much-anticipated evening, the Clovers would regale their fellow citizens and supporters with old-fashioned melodies, patriotic Confederate tunes, several spirituals, a few Broadway hits — and of course their signature song, "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover," which they always sang at the beginning and end of the performance.
It would be a splendid evening, one that the whole community enjoyed, for the Clovers seemed, in an odd sort of way, to belong to the community and to speak for it and represent it, all at the same time. The Clovers sang from their hearts, and from the heart of Darling, too.
Clyde Clover had created the quartet back in 1917, the year Woodrow Wilson led the United States into the War to End All Wars and dispatched the boys of the Alabama 167th to France. They were happy to go, of course — all red-blooded young Americans thought it was their duty to make the world safe for democracy. It might not have been quite what they were expecting, but they did it anyway, and bravely.
All throughout the war, the Lucky Four Clovers kept Darling's patriotic spirits high. They sang "Over There" and "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag" and "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary." The one wartime song they didn't sing was "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," because of course they weren't.
And when the Great War ended and the numb and battlescarred survivors came home, the Clovers celebrated their return, and the music seemed to promise a new beginning. They still sang the old favorites, of course, but the Twenties were beginning to roar, and there was an avalanche of new music, bright and boisterous with the spirit of the age. They sang "Ain't We Got Fun," "Ma, He's Makin' Eyes at Me," "I'll See You in My Dreams," "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," "Hard Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah," and (naturally) "Alabamy Bound." The decade's lively exuberance and boundless optimism was embodied in its music, and Darling (like everybody else in America) believed the party would go on forever.
It didn't. The fun came to an end on Black Monday, 1929, when the markets crashed. The Thirties didn't roar. They sighed and they sobbed, sometimes in minor keys. The favorites of those days — "Mood Indigo," "Willow Weep for Me," "Love Letters in the Sand," "Stormy Weather" — were melancholy, but for all their sadness, they were sweetly melodic.
And since almost every Darling family now had a radio (or a friendly neighbor who had a radio and was glad to offer an empty parlor chair), people spent their evenings listening. Everybody had a favorite show: the exotic, foreign-sounding A&P Gypsies (sponsored by A&P Food Stores); the down-home Grand Ole Opry on Nashville's WSM, with Dr. Humphrey Bates and His Possum Hunters and the Binkley Brothers' Dixie Clodhoppers; or the more sophisticated Palmolive Hour on Friday nights on NBC, where listeners could hear everything from opera to Broadway to jazz, sponsored by (of course) Palmolive Soap (Keep that schoolgirl complexion!). People listened at night, hummed and whistled and sang the tunes during the day, and played them (if they could) on their fiddles, guitars, ukuleles, autoharps, and the old Baldwin upright in the parlor.
Because it was such a musical era, the Lucky Four Clovers were Darling's favorite sons. The quartet was invited to perform for school events, church socials, community dances, weddings, and even funerals, where they sang "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," ending the service with "Rock of Ages." When the Clovers were invited to sing, the grieving family was assured of a grand turnout of mourners and could be confident that there wouldn't be a dry eye in the house.
Mr. Clover was dead by this time, and the membership of the quartet had changed, along with its repertoire. But the Clovers still performed their October show and always kept their audience completely enthralled. The 1934 fall show was special, for it was also a dress rehearsal — before a live audience — for the upcoming Dixie Regional Barbershop Quartet Competition, which was scheduled to take place in the Darling Academy gym in just a couple of weeks. It was a wonderful opportunity for the home-grown Clovers, and all of Darling was wishing them luck.
Ophelia Snow and Elizabeth Lacy, members and officers of the Darling Dahlias Garden Club, had found seats together in the very first row. They were dressed in their Sunday best for the occasion, Ophelia in a pretty pink print silk with an ivory lace ruffle at the neck and Liz in a blue silk crepe outfit with long sleeves, a stylish shawl collar, and a pleated skirt that came to well below the knee — a pleasure to wear after those short, skinny flapper dresses of a few years back, which had never been much of a hit in Darling.
"What a swell turnout," Ophelia said to Elizabeth. She turned in her seat to peer at the crowd, which exuded the smell of wet wool, cigarette smoke, and Blue Waltz perfume. "I do believe everybody in town must be here, in spite of the rain. Looks like it's standing room only."
"Maybe Reverend Dooley can put some extra chairs up there by the stage," Lizzy said. Just as she said that, several young men came up the aisle carrying wooden folding chairs. With a clatter, they began setting them up on both sides of the platform at the front of the room.
Ophelia leaned a little closer. "I saw you and Mr. Moseley at the movie last weekend, Liz. State Fair, it was. Do you have something to tell me?"
Lizzy turned to look curiously at her friend. "Well, I guess I can tell you I liked the movie. Will Rogers is a favorite of mine — he can be funny without half-trying. Janet Gaynor was great. I heard that some people were offended by the scene in the bedroom, but I didn't think it crossed the line. I mean, they were just talking."
Ophelia looked disappointed. "And that's it? You and Mr. Moseley aren't —?" She waggled her eyebrows.
"No, we are not." Lizzy was emphatic. "Benton Moseley is my boss, and he's a friend. If there's a movie we both like, sometimes we go together. But that's all it is, Opie. And all it's ever been. Nothing more."
Lizzy was fibbing just a little bit, for when she first went to work in Mr. Moseley's law office, she'd had a huge crush on him — and quite naturally so. He was intelligent, good-looking, and very kind to a young woman just starting out on her secretarial career. Which of course she hadn't thought of as a "career," not at the time, anyway. Her job was just a temporary stepping stone on the path that led every Darling girl to marriage. And marriage to Mr. Moseley — why, that would have been any Darling girl's dream.
But that was years ago, and Lizzy had made a firm effort to put that girlish silliness behind her. To her mother's great despair, she no longer saw her job as a parking place while she went looking for a husband. She and Mr. Moseley had worked together for so long and so well that they could read each other's minds, and when they went out together for a social evening, it was comfortable, companionable fun.
In the past few months, however, a rather unsettling difficulty had emerged in the office. The new CCC camp outside of town had been a welcome boost to Darling's economy, but it hadn't been much of a help for Mr. Moseley's law practice. Lizzy was beginning to fear that her job — which she needed, of course, to pay her bills — might not be as secure as she liked to believe. Last week, Mr. Moseley had even mentioned that he might have to cut her back to part-time.
"Maybe thirty hours, instead of forty," he had said casually. Too casually, Lizzy thought with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. He was trying to act like ten fewer hours a week didn't matter, but of course it did — to her pocketbook.
"Nothing more, huh?" Ophelia repeated, sounding unconvinced. "Well, if you say so. But I still think that you and Mr. Moseley would make a really swell —"
She broke off. "Oh, goodie! Here they come!" She sat up straight as four men emerged from a side door and stepped smartly onto the platform. "And don't they look fine?"
Oh, they did! Dressed in dark suits, starched white shirts, and their usual bright green bow ties, the Lucky Four Clovers looked confident, self- assured, and eager to please their audience. For the last couple of years, the quartet had enjoyed a stable membership. Portly Martin Ewing (owner of Cypress County's biggest cotton gin) sang lead and acted as the group's amusing master of ceremonies. Frank Harwood (a salesman at the Kilgore Dodge dealership, a bachelor, and very good-looking) crooned a rich baritone. Reginald Dunlap (owner of Dunlap's Five and Dime and the new husband of Liz Lacy's mother) sang a high, warbling tenor. And gray-haired Whitney Whitworth (the wealthy part-owner of the Darling Telephone Exchange) sang a full-throated bass but managed never to smile.
Everybody settled back happily into their seats as the quartet swung into "I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover." Then Mr. Ewing introduced himself and each of the other three men (although of course, everybody in the room already knew who they were). He followed that with a few cheerful words about how lucky they all were to live in the beautiful town of Darling, the luckiest little town on earth. And then the songs began.
The Lucky Four Clovers sang effortlessly, beautifully, with passion and precision, their voices blending harmoniously — and with no mistakes, not even one. They sang "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, Has Anybody Seen My Girl?" and "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" and "I Found a Million-Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)," and an old Stephen Foster ballad, "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair." They sang several familiar hymns and a few Broadway tunes and the Confederate songs that everyone in Darling loved: "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom" (the Southern version, of course) and "Dixie," with the audience joining in.
And at the end of the performance, after the Clovers had reprised their signature song and taken their bows, everybody in the room jumped to their feet, clapping and shouting and whistling. Two encores later, as Darlingians were putting up their umbrellas and sloshing back to their homes through the darkness and still-pouring rain, they were saying that the Lucky Four Clovers were the very best barbershop quartet in the entire South. Without a doubt — without a doubt — they would win the Dixie championship and put lucky little Darling on the musical map.
But while Darling folk are good and kind and industrious and have many outstanding talents, they are not very good at predicting the future. It isn't their fault, of course. It is fair to say that, as a species, humans are not very well equipped to look ahead. Nobody in the audience that night, for instance, could know that two of the Lucky Four Clovers were destined to have some very bad luck, very soon.
One would lose his voice.
And another would end up dead.
THE DAHLIAS PLAN PIES
Sunday, October 21, 1934
"I swear, Bessie," Aunt Hetty Little said. "In all my born days, I have never seen a prettier pie pumpkin. Why, it makes my mouth water just to look at what's in that basket. I can picture the pies."
The bushel basket Aunt Hetty was looking at was filled with bright orange Winter Luxury pie pumpkins, grown by the Darling Dahlias in the large vegetable garden next to their clubhouse. The basket in the middle of their clubhouse's kitchen floor was heaped with the small pumpkins, known across the South as the best pie pumpkin anybody could ever hope to grow. And the Dahlias canning-kettle ladies, under the direction of master canner Bessie Bloodworth, were making sure that there would be plenty of pies this winter, all over Darling.
"They do look good, don't they?" Bessie said proudly. "You know, Aunt Hetty, those seeds came from my mother's garden. She got them from her mother's garden in the mountains north of Tuscaloosa. Gramma bought a packet of Winter Luxury from the Johnson and Stokes seed catalogue back when she set up housekeeping in 1895. Every year, she saved the best seed, and my mother kept up the habit. So have I. That's been —" She stopped, calculating. "Why, almost forty years now. Forty years!"
Ophelia Snow, whose husband Jed owned Snow's Farm Supply, shook her head admiringly. "Forty years' worth of pumpkin pies from one packet of seeds? Why, that is just plain amazing, Bessie!"
Mildred Kilgore turned from the kitchen counter, where she was slipping the skins off steamed pumpkin halves and cutting the flesh into one-inch cubes. "How do you save the seeds, Bessie? I don't think I know how to do that."
Bessie, plumpish and short, in her mid-fifties, might have been tempted to roll her eyes, but she didn't, because Mildred was a friend, even if she wasn't much of a gardener. "Why, there's nothing easier, Mildred." She nodded toward a colander that was filled with pulp that Liz Lacy had scooped out of the pumpkins before she sliced them in half.
"You just stick that colander under the faucet and pick the biggest seeds out of that mess of fibers and stuff. Rinse them off clean and spread them out on a dish towel, separated as well as you can, so they don't get all stuck together. Should take them about a week to dry. Then drop them into an envelope and write on it what they are, with the date." She smiled reminiscently. "It's a really nice feeling, you know — planting the same seeds your momma and your gramma planted. Makes the pumpkins feel like members of the family, in a way."
"Not to mention that you don't have to lay out good money for seeds every year," Aunt Hetty said thoughtfully. "Although maybe if Huey P. Long gets to the White House, we'll have a little more money in our pockets."
Everybody knew that Aunt Hetty had to cut corners where money was concerned and was hoping that Senator Long would win the 1936 presidential election. He was making a lot of noise about his Share the Wealth program, traveling around the country promising that every family in America would get $2,000 a year. Not only that, but everyone over sixty would get a special $30-a-month old-age benefit! Some people were skeptical ("Where's that money going to come from is what I want to know"), but others were in such dire straits that they were jumping at Huey Long's campaign promises like a rainbow trout jumping for a June bug. He was collecting quite a following.
"Franklin Roosevelt says he wants to give old folks a pension," Ophelia said, digging a pumpkin out of the basket.
"Well, then, why hasn't he done something about it?" Aunt Hetty asked testily. The oldest Dahlia but still spry and alert, she read the newspapers and prided herself on keeping up with the political news. She answered her own question. "He's afraid that if he does, people will say he's a socialist, so he's dragging his feet."
Excerpted from "The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover"
Copyright © 2018 Susan Wittig Albert.
Excerpted by permission of Persevero 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
Chapter One: The Lucky Four Clovers,
Chapter Two: The Dahlias Plan Pies,
Chapter Three: Ophelia: Girl Reporter,
Chapter Four: Charlie Dickens Gets a Tip,
Chapter Five: Liz Handles a Crisis,
Chapter Six: Myra May Is Stymied,
Chapter Seven: The Dahlias Bloom at the Beauty Bower,
Chapter Eight: Buddy Norris Investigates,
Chapter Nine: Lizzy Makes a Discovery,
Chapter Ten: Charlie Chases a Story,
Chapter Eleven: Lizzy Gets a Letter,
Chapter Twelve: The Garden Gate by Elizabeth Lacy,
Chapter Thirteen: Bessie Goes to the Five and Dime,
Chapter Fourteen: Charlie Is Buffaloed,
Chapter Fifteen: The Sheriff Gets the Wrong Idea,
Chapter Sixteen: Deputy Springer Offers a Theory,
Chapter Seventeen: Ophelia, Liz, and Charlie,
Chapter Eighteen: The Sheriff and the Bootlegger,
Chapter Nineteen: Lizzy Takes Pictures,
Chapter Twenty: Liz Has Visitors,
Chapter Twenty-One: The Sheriff Gets His Man — and Then He Doesn't,
Chapter Twenty-Two: The Dahlias and the Lucky Four Clovers,
The Dahlias' Pie Supper Recipes,
Books by Susan Wittig Albert,