She did it again. Jill Churchill, an admirably incorrigible author, repeated what she did in BELL, BOOK, AND SCANDAL, # 14 in her Jane Jeffry series. In THE ACCIDENTAL FLORIST, # 16 in the series, Churchill stretched a toe out of the confines of the mystery genre, entertaining and intriguing this reader more than she would have if she had stayed within staid boundaries.
I wonder, though: Does this type of breakout appeal to me only because I've written novels, which allows me to identify with Churchill's creeping beyond containers of her craft, especially when making the first cracks in a long revered egg shell incorporates more of her author life into established appeals of Jane and Shelley? This time, the daily-life-and-work-of-an-author was inserted into the story with bravo perfection, in my copy of the book with a lusciously-fluffy, lemon-souffle aura, cat and bouquet included.
It's true that the author is expanding a recent trend in this series, a trend which has placed the murder and its resolution by amateur sleuth-hood on the back burners of subplot stews, so far back, in fact, that the murder and its investigation didn't take its usual active space in the story. Somewhat because of that fact, I enjoyed THE ACCIDENTAL FLORIST even more than I've enjoyed each of the prior 15 books.
Churchill is such a subtle genius at flowing undercurrents of cultural issues, that she's able to keep me above those undertows, at a level of an easy-flowing, craved type of reading entertainment. She accomplishes this through a narrative style of such natural grace that I doubt even Santa Clause could see the insights intended, until the final page is turned and cerebral spotlights are surged, and lighten up the cerebellum-gestalt of plot machinations.
Again, Churchill managed to subtly accomplish a collection of (not so fluffy) literary goals with such finesse that I didn't see them until I had closed the book that final time and allowed myself to ruminate through a few questions.
--- Why this title, with its play on the literary offering, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST?
--- Why did Churchill have Jane basically leave the mystery solution to her soon-to-be new husband, detective Mel Van Dyne? (Well, except that, Jane did come up with a creative M. O. which Van Dyne expanded, and which ultimately worked efficiently to corral the culprit.)
--- Why did Churchill add Mel's new, young female assistant (thin, pale, and not really pretty ... until she smiled in shy pride of her accomplishments) to the mix?
To answer those questions, ask a few more:
--- How do amateur sleuth mystery series make even slightly believable, the excuses they offer to justify the amateur repeatedly taking over investigations, solving them ahead of or beyond the capacities of professionals involved?
--- How do professionals in real life respond to amateur sleuth mysteries repeatedly making them look like idiots or fools in a widespread genre which has become horrendously popular with mystery afficionados of all media presentations? (Don't get me wrong. I love amateur sleuth mysteries ... they're FICTION; I also admire and support investigative professionals.)
--- Did Churchill decide to design Jane's character, after having accepted herself as a successful, professional author, decide to do that job to her best ability, and let go of attempting to do other people's jobs? Has Churchill allowed Jane to self-actualize? Has Jane developed an inner strength and solid confidence to the point that she has learned the joys of letting go of responsibilities to those who should be allowed to shoulder them, more rightfully than she?
Within the subplot menagerie of THE ACCIDENTAL FLORIST, Jane has a full life around her work as an author, all of which was dramatized with simple literary grace in this landmark novel of understatement of a skill not to be underestimated. I've learned not to underestimate any skill of understatement. Yet, why did I again read Churchill's latest offerings thinking (wrongly), "This one is truly light and fluffy, entertainingly so, but with no undercurrents of "significance" in the literary, or cultural-conversation senses.
Then, why did I again finish the novel, put it aside, and allow my brain (rightly) to make the connections, to see beneath the now stilled waters of Jane and Shelley's seemingly simple shenanigans.
For whatever reasons, I'm happy I could say again, "Oh. I see."
I see why Mel's new assistant was so endearing.
I see why Churchill exposed here even more than she did in previous novels in this series, an author's life and trade as it weaves through subplots of a real life.
This narrative opened a window onto the everyday life of an author who is also a good Mom, a friend, a companion, and a self-actualized woman who no longer catered to everyone and everything in her path ... who was able to say "No," simply, clearly, and unequivocally, to any approach or attack contrary to her well being or that of a loved one.
I believe that one of the assets of Diane Mott Davidson's series is that she exposes through Goldy how easy it is for caring women to habitually cater to everything but their own needs, too often not being appreciated for that kindness.
When Jane stood up to Thelma and Addie, several times in various ways, sometimes my automatic response was to feel empathy for the older women instead of for Jane. "How cold," I thought, or, "How bossy, or rude." Then, I reminded myself how I felt in prior novels when those women and others repeatedly and viciously ran over Jane when she didn't yet have the backbone to fully stand up to them. I felt like I always do when a woman in a novel lets people walk on her. I wanted to screech, "Get a backbone!"
Well, now Jane has one (a backbone). For better or for worse. I hope, "for better."