Review: Daylilies for Emily’s Garden: A Catherine Jewell Mystery. Gloria Alden. Paper, $14.95. ISBN: 968-1484805701. Also available as e-book from Amazon for $3.99. 302 pp. Willow Knoll Press. Note: search under “Alden, Gloria.”
In Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, Gloria Alden’s second novel in her traditional mystery series, Catherine Jewell wins a new job renovating the elaborate gardens at the home of romance author and Emily Dickinson scholar Emily Llewellyn. Catherine is thrilled to have this job and fits it into her daily schedule. She also works part time at the local show place Elmwood Gardens and has her own garden business, Roses in Thyme. Because Ms. Llewellyn is a recluse, Catherine rarely sees her, but her long-time secretary, Charles McKee, handles everything. Catherine hires Mary Derryberry to help in her shop while she’s working on the Llewellyn place. The Derryberries stand to lose their farm both because they owe money on it and also because a new section of a bypass is to come through it, where there is a valuable wetlands.
The Mayor of Portage Falls decides the proposed bypass would be destructive of the little town’s well-being and calls a meeting of townspeople to gain public support against it. An environmental activist, Bruce Two-Hill, joins in this effort to protect the wetlands and certain rare and protected species that thrive there.
Meantime another stranger who’d been snooping around town ends up dead in a shed on the Derryberry property. The police chief, John MacDougal, has no suspect for this murder and then a second one, when a woman construction boss is killed, except for a young man named Eric Hostetler, who has Down’s Syndrome and likes to wander around the farms and homes.
Eric’s mother is a professional musician and avid gardener, who loves to try unusual flowers and plants and grows them in every conceivable container: coffee cans, plastic milk jugs, an old teakettle, and even an old porcelain bed pan. Betsy Hostetler dearly loves her son but isn’t able to keep him from wandering, and since he loves construction equipment, he finds those big machines used for making the bypass and climbs onto them, pretending to drive them.
In Alden’s novels I especially love her characters and the flower and garden descriptions. John MacDougal is a kind policeman. His mother, with her B&B and small used bookshop, is so welcoming to strangers that John worries she’ll be taken advantage of. She is drawn to Bruce Twohill and his stories of hiking and backpacking in wilderness areas.
Both Eric and Betsy are lovable characters. Betsy is one of those rare individuals who is completely herself, attuned to her music, her mentally challenged son, and open to new people.
Alden’s books, besides a twisty puzzler of a plot, have that deeply satisfying human tone in which most of the characters have those human traits we all instinctively respect: compassion, honesty, a willingness to suspend judgement, and humility in the best sense of the word–knowing one’s true worth but with no need to brag and able to appreciate fine qualities in others. I’m reminded of what Louise Penny said she wanted people to take away from her novels: the belief that “goodness exists.”
In Alden’s novels, there are crimes, criminals, and evil people, but here, too, in Portage Falls, goodness exists and triumphs.
Gloria and her collie, Maggie, in Gloria's library.
Interview with Gloria Alden:
When did you begin writing? Why?
As a teenager I kept a journal in a three-ring binder that became incredibly thick. I also occasionally wrote poetry and one short story. The journal writing stopped until 1990, but I still wrote a few poems and lots and lots of letters to family.
When and why did you begin writing mysteries?
I’ve always loved mysteries and thought of writing one someday, but teaching full time didn’t give me a lot of extra time. Then in the late 1990s one of my sisters thought we should write a mystery together and publish enough books for the three of us to be able to retire on. Naive, weren’t we? So we got together with another sister and brainstormed plot and characters. I started writing it and passed it on to my sister, and so it went back and forth for a short while, but we didn’t live close and our voices were so different that I thought it jarring. I changed the protagonist to an older woman than my sister wanted and took off on my own. There’s only a few bits of description that she wrote that remain in The Blue Rose. Most of the characters are my invention, too.
Are you writing a series or a stand-alone? Explain your basic idea for your series.
It’s definitely a series although I try to make each book one that a new reader can still enjoy. The theme is gardening, but mostly it’s about small town life with interesting and sometimes funny characters. I like to write a series because I like many of my characters and want to bring them back – at least the ones who weren’t a victim or murderer. I also like creating a town where a reader can feel at home with familiar characters they may recognize in people they know, or if they’ve read my other books can welcome back a familiar character they were introduced in a previous book. Because I include other themes, too, I don’t think one has to be a gardener to still enjoy my series.
Tell us about your publication with this book.
I went the route with queries to agents and publishers once I had it finished. I also went to conferences and writing retreats and edited the book a gazillion times. But I wasn’t willing to make the changes some thought I should make, and I didn’t want to cut it so much that it would fit some of the word limits of small publishers so after learning a lot more about the self-publishing route through blogs and those who had taken that route, I published it on both Smashwords and CreateSpace. I know that limits me in some ways, but I’m still very happy with my choice.
Why did you choose to write about the topic, community and issues you choose?
That’s easy. I followed the old bromide ‘Write what you know.’ I love gardening and come from a family of gardeners. My books take place in NE Ohio where I’ve lived all my life. In my second book, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden I chose an environmental theme because that is something I feel strongly about. In The Blue Rose, the first book, it’s about how important it is to some people to maintain their façade they have created for themselves. The third book soon to be out Ladies of the Garden Club probably deals with love and how it can be misguided. Actually, I think it’s more a whodunit than anything else.
How have you found it to be published? Share that experience.
It’s been a wonderful experience. It not only validates the years I’ve spent writing, but is such a good experience to get positive feedback from those who have read my books. With each and every one it’s like “Oh, wow! Really you like it? How nice.” I also like the fact that I can write what I want to write and not worry about selling X amount of books or having to worry about a publisher canceling more books because I didn’t sell enough.
Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?
One of my favorite out of many was the one you wrote, Judy. “A compassionate sleuth named Catherine Jewell, a small town police chief who isn’t used to murder on his patch, a cast of lovably eccentric characters, a rich man no one likes and someone murders give Alden’s The Blue Rose a feeling reminiscent of Golden Age cozies. Garden lovers especially will enjoy the details of the plants, flowers and the garden design at the elegant Elmwood Gardens. As readers, we are drawn gently into solving the puzzle until we meet face to face the unforgettable darkness of one human mind obsessed with revenge.”
For Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, K. Williams writes “This second in the Catherine Jewell mystery series is equally as good as the first. The characters seemed so real to me, they could be my neighbors. Plus, the twists and turns kept me guessing “whodunit” until the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of plants and flowers and was inspired to grab a trowel and work in my own garden!”
What other books have you published and where and when?
I self-published a middle-grade book, The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club, last spring. It is based on a writing activity I used for my class for almost a whole year in which my students followed the adventures of an elderly woman – Alice Van Brocken – as she pursues two jewel thieves around the country getting into numerous dangerous situations. She receives letters from them in all the places like Boston, NYC, and so on until she’s able to bring the thieves to justice in Seattle. The letters my students wrote to her are delightful.
Do you have a work in progress now? Is it part of a series?
Ladies of the Garden Club, the third in my Catherine Jewell Mystery series, is done and I’m only waiting for the cover to be finished. Then I’ll be starting on the 4th, which is plotted in my mind and has been for some time. I still need to write bios for new characters and come up with a good title. And, as always, I’ll be working on short stories along the way. I have five short stories published traditionally, and someday I may put them all in a self-published anthology.
If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful? How?
I belong to both, and they have been immensely helpful on my journey. I have learned so much that was important that I had no clue on before I joined them in 2007. I’ve taken classes through them, my great critique partners came through them, and I’ve made numerous friends through them that are so supportive. Only writers truly understand other writers.
What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?
The benefits are too many to list. I’ve learned so much at these conferences including how to poison someone through Luci Zahray, The Poison Lady. I’ve met awesome mystery writers who’ve inspired me and some who have even become friends. I’ve learned that there are no more supportive writers out there than mystery writers. At least that’s my opinion.
What else would you like to say about the next book in your series?
Here’s the blurb for the back cover of Ladies of the Garden Club. Small town Portage Falls is the idyllic place for an event on the Town Green, but when an elderly member of the garden club shows up dead in Catherine Jewell’s greenhouse, she falls under suspicion since she’s an authority on poisonous plants. This suspicion spreads when another garden club member is poisoned. Sheriff John MacDougal’s deputy, Joe Salcone, thinks she could be the poisoner, and some in the town agree with him. Meanwhile, Catherine goes over the list of those who attended her poison plant seminar to find a possible murderer, but thinks everyone is too nice to be one.
When another member of the garden club turns up missing, Catherine and others think someone has it in for the garden club. Familiar characters return from The Blue Rose and Daylilies for Emily’s Garden as well as new and interesting characters.
Gloria's first mystery novel (2012)
Gloria Alden taught third grade for twenty years. She loved teaching, but wanted to have more time for writing, and much of her retirement years has been spent that way. Her published short stories include “Cheating on Your Wife Can Get You Killed,” winner of the 2011 Love is Murder contest and published in Crimespree Magazine; “Mincemeat is for Murder” appearing in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, “The Professor’s Books” in the FISH TALES Anthology; and “The Lure of the Rainbow” in FISH NETS, the newest Guppy Anthology.
“Once Upon a Gnome”appears in STRANGELY FUNNY and “Norman’s Skeleton’s” in ALL HALLOWS EVIL. Her Catherine Jewell mystery novels are The Blue Rose, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, and Ladies of the Garden Club, which will be out soon. She also has a middle-grade book, THE SHERLOCK HOLMES DETECTIVE CLUB, based on a writing activity her students did at Hiram Elementary School. In addition to writing, she’s passionate about books, and they are rapidly taking over her home. She lives on a small farm in Southington, Ohio, with two ponies, some cats, seven hens, and her collie, Maggie. She blogs on Thursdays with Writers Who Kill.