Digging Up the Remains

By Julia Henry

Kensington Books

Pub date: 25-Aug-2020

digging up the remains julia henry

AMBER LOVE 06-JULY-2020 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’m also an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.

Publisher’s summary:

A festive fall is in full swing in Goosebush, Massachusetts, but when a snoopy reporter is felled by foul play, it’s up to Lilly and her Garden Squad to spook out a killer . . .

Between hosting a haunted house on her lawn, serving on the town’s 400th Anniversary Planning Committee, and prepping for the Fall Festival’s 10k fundraiser, Lilly’s hands are full. She doesn’t have time for prickly newspaper reporter Tyler Crane, who’s been creeping around town, looking for dirt on Goosebush’s most notable families . . . until he’s found dead on the race route moments before the start.

An unfortunate accident? Or did Tyler unearth a secret that someone in Goosebush is willing to kill to keep? By planting nasty rumors and cultivating fear, Tyler sowed a fair share of ill will during his brief time in town. Weeding through the suspects will be thorny, but Lilly and her Garden Squad are determined to root out the autumnal assassin before the Fall Festival flops . . .


DIGGING UP THE REMAINS is the third book in the Garden Squad Mystery. Julia Henry has created a modern type Jessica Fletcher with her character Lilly Jayne. What’s wonderfully unique is that senior citizen Lilly is roommates with Delia, nearly forty years apart in age. It’s a friendship that works well. The rest of the cast spans the ages. I can’t say I found any ethnic diversity though, and to be honest, that may very well reflect some posh suburbs accurately. Henry does include older gay characters which is something audiences are ready for.

In their odd couple relationship, Delia would be the Felix Unger; but Lilly isn’t Oscar Madison. Neither of them would be considered messy or unkempt. Delia is a thorough researcher with a knack for organizing data. She’s part of the historical society and like, Lilly, frequently ends up volunteering her time to help others. Lilly is the gardening expert. Every plant in her environment is planned carefully. Plus, she loves talking to them. She’s busier during her retirement as a widow than she was married with a job.

The overall premise of Digging Up the Remains is about secrets. Family secrets. Personal secrets. Even gardening secrets. There’s an excellent examination of how traditional journalism has died in favor of careless, soundbite-driven, high traffic live feeds of the “average” person looking for Likes and fame. Tyler is that kind of opportunist. The once well-respected journalist turned to raking up small town gossip.

Lilly’s “secret” that Tyler digs up doesn’t seem unusual or scandalous to me at all. It was that she took a few of her families’ ashes and put them in a memorial garden in her yard. The rest were scattered. That seems rather normal to me, but the residents of Goosebush, Massachusetts seem to find it newsworthy enough to gawk at Lilly’s gate. Being Halloween time, it probably bolstered people’s macabre curiosities. There are other secrets that Tyler and others like Delia have discovered that are truly game-changers. Others are deeply personal like a domestic abuse situation, bigamy, and a fatal car wreck.

Though Lilly is the main character, it’s Delia who begins and ends the thread about one of the family secrets that could change Goosebush’s history. I even had to wonder if Delia’s penchant for accuracy, thoroughness, and precision in research was an expression of autism. It’s never stated, but would be interesting to add some extra depth to her tireless personality.

This whole premise of a guerrilla gardening squad is charming. I have known a couple “yarn-bombers” in my day. This squad goes out in the middle of the night to beautify a place in need. In Digging Up the Remains, the chosen venue is a local business. That’s another area that Henry covers exceptionally well. She makes a point of her characters appreciating local pride and having clean and attractive places of business and homes, while mocking the monstrosities of suburban McMansions that seem far too large for their lots. It’s totally anti big business. Lilly makes a quip about one of her neighbor’s houses being decorated like several historical eras vomited up their worst decor.

I found the dialog formal. It could be how the upper middle class actually speak. The pacing was perfect. About ten percent in, we have Lilly pulled into action when the victim threatens her. Besides the past cases of possible murders that Delia investigates, the murder front and center of this book is about quarter way through it. Things are close to climax when there’s a huge reveal with ten percent to go; and the climax is halfway between that and the end. After the story, Henry includes a couple pages of gardening tips. I appreciate the love for composting and using coffee grounds though I have never tried it myself. It sounds like a great way to recycle and reuse what you have.

Rating: 5 stars

five star rating

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