REVIEW: The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover
(The Darling Dahlias #7)
by Susan Wittig Albert

DarlingDahlias-UnluckyClover

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Susan Wittig Albert has been one of my favorite authors since I first picked up one of her China Bayles herbal mysteriesThe Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover is the first time I’ve read one of her Darling Dahlias books and I had no expectations going in other than what I always get from her books: trivia, great characters, and a crime or two. With that in mind, I didn’t know if I could jump into a Dahlias story at book seven; but since the first herbal mystery I read wasn’t the first book (I went back as soon as possible). I had no reason to worry. She gives a break down of the garden club members up front.

Reading about this era of the 1930s through Wittig Albert’s prose made me enjoy the story so much more than if it had been another author. The last book of hers I read was Loving Eleanor, about the life and romantic relationships of Eleanor Roosevelt. It had that something special she provides. She never goes out of her way to throw the word “feminism” around, but her characters show you the world of women’s contributions where they were often erased from history books.

house

The Darling Dahlias members are made up of women from young to old, single to married. As necessary for a story of the time, there’s quite a bit of segregation. The people of color are in certain social roles like housekeepers and cooks. She shows what a lot of people now know: the support staff always knows the secrets. They also had (still have) a reason to fear law enforcement and not get involved.

“He dearly loved his wife, but she had an independent streak a mile wide and two miles deep. She had kept her account book herself before they were married, and she insisted on doing that now.”

The main cast of ladies are also diversely employed: a legal secretary, a reporter, diner owners, a fashion mogul, telephone exchange owners and operators, and stay at home wives. They’re busy with civic responsibilities like the pie bakes and supporting the barbershop quartet, the Lucky Clovers. There’s exploration into the pressure about how old a woman is and when she’s expected to marry and have children; the audacity of women living alone; and most especially, women who come from their own money but have to relinquish charge of the accounts to their husbands.

“Lizzy loved her house, but even more, she loved living there alone, because living alone gave her the solitude she needed to write.”

The quartet loses two men, one to illness and one to murder which is where the mystery begins and the local police are introduced. The sheriff, Buddy, is a local, but his new deputy isn’t. Getting to know the sheriff through his scenes presented with someone calm, not as confident as he looks, and curious about people. There’s also the subtle nod to lesbian relationships existing without the public displays of affection: two “single” women living together labeled as best friends; I could be reading too much into it, but after reading Loving Eleanor, that’s how I took Myra May and Violet Sims who were raising a child together as well as business partners and roommates.

Besides facts about the era, Wittig Albert keeps a little bit of the trivia she provides in her herbal series. There’s a librarian in Darling who insists on calling all plants by their scientific Latin names. Nuggets of folklore sprinkled in add to the motivations of why people garden in the first place.

“Morning glories (Ipomoea) in your garden are said to bring you peace and happiness — and guaranteed to bring a smile when you see them.”

“Persimmons, peaches, oranges, and pomegranates — sometimes called the ‘four fruits of good fortune,’ each of these symbolizes a different aspect of good luck.”

Readers will be taken into Darling like they’ve magically transported. You’ll learn about citizens who have to pay their legal fees with hens. You’ll also get to see how the law decides which moonshiners were left alone and which ones were raided. Perhaps my favorite trivia planted in the story was the invention of the chocolate chip cookie by Ruth Wakefield.

As the sheriff wraps up the murder case, there is question about a second death. I’m curious if this is intentional to show the reality that not all crimes are solved with truth and justice; or if Wittig Albert plans to carry it over into book eight.

five star rating

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