A few years back I wrote an article (“Detectives of the Garden: A Thyme to Kill”) on mystery novels with gardening themes for the online book-review site January Magazine.
Sharon Asakawa from the Garden Life radio show asked me to revisit that story and update it for a show they’re airing this week. So I dug up some recent mysteries with gardening themes and settings—and I found a few more classics:
Garden and Gardening Mystery Novels
The Trail of the Wild Rose (2009) by Anthony Eglin. A suspicious death during a plant-hunting trip in a remote, mountainous region of China is followed by the suspicious deaths of several other expedition members on their return to England. Dr. Laurence Kingston, a retired botany professor and amateur detective, looks into it. It’s a rather convoluted mystery, but you’ll learn quite a bit about rare roses.
The Night Gardener (2006) by George Pelecanos. In 1985, a killer leaves a body in in a community garden in a rough neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The murder is unsolved. Twenty years later a killer with the same modus operandi strikes, and some of the same cops—and ex-cops—investigate. Pelecanos is one of the great hardboiled urban mystery writers; the gardening aspect of the story is somewhat incidental.
The Savage Garden (2007) by Mark Mills. In 1958, Adam Strickland, a bright but uneven art history student is sent to Italy by his professor to study the design of an an elaborate garden at the Villa Docci outside Florence. The novel offers mysteries, one contemporary and one historic, plus fascinating detail on the design of gardens with symbolic details (in this case, clues to a murder).
The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes (1982) by K.C. Constantine. Constantine’s series about a rural Pennsylvania police chief, Mario Balzic, is some of the best American literary crime fiction. In this Mario Balzic story, baskets of out-of-season tomatoes are annoying the chief but eventually give him insight into a murder case.
A Long Finish (1998) by Michael Dibdin. The late Michael Dibdin, a British writer who lived in Seattle, set many of his books in Italy. In A Long Finish, Italian police investigator Aurelio Zen looks into a murder in the vineyards of Piedmont. You’ll never look at your grapevines in quite the same way.
Deadheads (1983) by Reginald Hill. As gardeners will immediately recognize, the title of the book refers not to fans of the American rock band the Grateful Dead but to the practice of pinching spent blossoms on a plant to encourage new flowers. In this witty novel by one of England’s foremost mystery writers, police investigators get suspicious when a murder suspect displays rather too much interest in his roses—and his sharp pruning tools.
Garden Mystery Book Lists
“Murder in the Gardens” at The History of the Mystery. Tip: They like Michelle Wan’s The Orchid Shroud (2006). Wild orchids, werewolves, and a complex family history entertwine in southwest France.
“Gardening Cozy Mysteries” at The Cozy Mystery Blog. Here you’ll find an extensive list of gardening mysteries in the “cozy” style, in which the amateur sleuth works in a garden-related profession.
“Seeds of Change: Gardening Mysteries” at the Princeton Public Library.