It's 1930 and Darling, Alabama, along with the rest of the nation, is trying to recover from the crash of the stock market. Verna Tidwell, Elizabeth "Liz" Lacy, and Ophelia Snow lead the Dahlias (the town's garden club) to help cheer up residents by adding color and beauty to the town through their various gardening projects.
There are two newcomers in town, Nona Jean Jamison and her reclusive friend Miss Lake, and rumors about the two ladies are flying around the town. Verna is convinced she had seen the two women years earlier performing in scanty costumes in New York's Ziegfield Frolic. Nona Jean denies this, but when she cuts and dies her beautiful platinum hair a subdued brown, Liz, Verna, and some of the other Dahlias suspect Nona a/k/a "Lorelei LaMotte" may be hiding much more than a former occupation as a dancer. The Dahlias are determined to find out the truth in order to keep the mysterious ladies, as well as the rest of the town, out of danger.
This book is the second in the "Darling Dahlias" series. The book has a lot of different characters, but there is a list and brief description of all thirteen members of the Dahlias Garden Club at the beginning of the book. The character list quickly introduces the majority of the characters to new readers. This book focuses on Liz, Verna, Bessie, and Myra May and each are very likeable, especially Liz. I also like the character of Beulah Trivette, who is the one who cuts and colors Nona's hair and wish she would have played more of a role in the book. Verna, Beulah, Myra Lee, and many of the characters are multi-dimensional with enough unknowns to create interest for future installments. Unfortunately, in the case of a few other characters, such as the gossipy Leona Ruth and Liz's overbearing mother, what you see is what you get. Some colorful characters are needed to make a book interesting, but the flighty Leona and the manipulative Mrs. Lacy are both annoying rather than quirky. The characters do serve their purpose in creating conflict, though, and there is a satisfying scene in which Mrs. Lacy is thankfully put in her place.
The setting in 1930 and historical details about the era, including expressions used by the characters, their customs, and products they use, are unique and a delight to read. The author really gives the reader a feel for life during this time in United States history through these details of items such as telephone switchboards and party lines, drug store products like "Wildroot Hair Tonic" and "Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound", and slang like "swell" and "jeepers". While I got a true feel for life in small town America at this time, with the exception of a few of the characters talking with a Southern accent and some Southern recipes at the back of the book, I didn't feel I was immersed in the South like I am with other Southern books, such as Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series.
This is an enjoyable book, which in addition to the period details, also contains interesting tidbits within the story about flowers and gardening that tie in well with the garden club theme. In addition, since Liz writes for the local newspaper, housekeeping tips from one of her "columns" appear at the end of the book. The no-nonsense Verna and sweet Liz make a good team in getting to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Nona Jean and Miss Lake. The subplot involving Bessie's personal mystery from years ago was also intriguing, and both storylines were resolved by the end of the book without any loose ends.
Fans of the author's China Bayles series or Kate Collins' Flower Shop mysteries will appreciate the style of writing and the gardening information included in this book. Overall, the book is a fast-paced cozy, great for a beach read or inside on a sunny summer day when it's too hot to work in your own garden.
This review was originally written for The Season for Romance E-Zine. The book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.