“Pruning the Dead” is the first book in the marvelous new Garden Squad Mystery series from Julia Henry (aka JA Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes). Lilly Jayne is a charming 65 y.o. expert gardener, quietly accepting of her beloved husband’s illness and passing. In the real world, it takes a while to heal emotionally from that kind of life trauma and Henry hits all the right notes of grief and recovery, including the friends that nudge Lilly ever so gently to return to former activities.
Pat French, the Queen of Bureaucrats at City Hall, fines people that have slightly oversized mailboxes and leave trash receptacles too close to the street. Except for foreclosure notices, there are no warnings, merely multiplying fines. This is not a gated community with strict compliance expected by the residents, this is a diverse small town. French's regulations are so ridiculous as to keep repairs from getting completed – because the repairs might not live up to code? As we say in the South, “Good grief, she needs a whoopin’ – her mama didn’t raise her right!”
A park cleanup is underway when the body of a conniving moneygrubber is discovered on top of the mulch, and the Garden Squad gets organized. They must dig into the many secrets of the dead woman that almost everyone hated, while solving the mystery of the zealous city hall clerk. The picture of stealthy Goosebush Garden Squad do-gooders of a certain age weeding and plotting at midnight, is a hoot to imagine as they skulk and whisper through the neighborhoods.
“Pruning the Dead” has a lively cast of business owners and friends with roots in Goosebush that go way back, plus a newbie garden lover that may be the perfect more-than-friend companion for Lilly in the future. And he just happens to live next door… Henry's descriptive phrasing delivers fully-fleshed out characters we'd love to serve on committees with and take out to lunch. They feel like friends for life, delightful for a continuing series. The villains are equally well drawn, creating off-center realities and excuses for themselves while wreaking havoc on everyone else.
Henry gives a nod to aching knees and creaky backs of senior citizens, while also showing that brains don’t shrivel just by virtue of reaching the ripe young age of 60. Each of the members provides different skill sets: organization/planning, computer knowledge, horticultural expertise, close connection to the police department, and deep pockets. Combining skills with savvy life experiences, “Pruning the Dead” is a terrific homage to the active, productive boomer crowd that runs the real world. Never underestimate the power of senior citizens. You’ll never, ever outsmart them.
There are helpful gardening tips throughout “Pruning the Dead,” and a special list at the end. I can’t wait to see what happens to Lilly Jayne and her Goosebush Garden Squad in book #2, “Tilling the Truth.” Is it August yet? (update: It's out now!)
Please visit www.jhauthors.com for more about this multi-talented author and her other work, as well as the books written under her other names.