Friday, October 19, 2012
In Dorothy L. Sayers's Strong Poison, Lord Peter Wimsey struggles to clear Harriet Vane of murdering her former lover, Philip Boyes, with arsenic. Wimsey's challenge is to figure out how anyone other than Harriet could have slipped the arsenic to Boyes, whose last meal was one in which he shared all the food and drink with his cousin. The answer to Wimsey's challenge: a clever and deadly way of making an omelet.
Clever Mary then puts the lamb into the oven, heads off to the grocery store to give herself an alibi and then goes home to "discover" the body. The murder is investigated by Patrick's work friends, who never suspect Mary and spend their time looking for the blunt object that obviously killed Patrick. When they point out that the roast seems to be finished, Mary invites them to eat it. As they eat, one detective remarks that the murder weapon is probably right under their noses. Too right!
Housework even plays a role in the solution to the crime in Busman's Honeymoon. That chimney mishap dislodges a clue, and it turns out that a regular domestic chore is the key to the ingenious murder method. If only a regular domestic chore around my house was integral to something really important. But I suppose cleanliness is its own reward.
Did I mention I hate gardening too? I believe in the old saying that a garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever. Weeding is the most boring, back-breaking job ever. And why is it that it's so hard to pull weeds, but if I accidentally grab a real plant, it pops right out? My favorite thing about winter is that all the snow on the ground makes my garden and landscaping look just as good as my neighbor's.
Our British friends love their gardening, though, and it plays a role in many of their mysteries. In the Christie book I mentioned above, Sad Cypress, the resolution is helped along by a knowledge of rose varieties. (Good thing I wasn't on the case.)
Even if you skip the hard work of grubbing in the dirt and just appreciate flowers through a visit to London's annual Chelsea Flower Show, that might not be safe enough. In Chelsea Mansions, the eleventh in Barry Maitland's Brock and Kolla police procedural series, Nancy Haynes's dream of coming from the US especially for the show ends violently when, heading back to her hotel after her first afternoon's visit, she is suddenly and inexplicably picked up by a passerby and thrown in front of a bus, killing her. A few days later, a wealthy Russian émigré is killed in his garden. His house is right next door to the small, somewhat rundown hotel where Nancy Haynes had been staying. Are the two deaths connected?
Other garden produce gets into the act in G. M. Malliet's Wicked Autumn, when that battle-ax Wanda Batton-Smyth, head of Nether Monkslips Women's Institute, is bumped off in the middle of the fall Harvest Fayre. I suppose Robert Barnard's Fête Fatale is evidence that it's the gathering, not the gardening, that's the problem. After all, the church fête that is the scene of this book's murder of the new vicar is more about bric-a-brac and baked goods than produce and flowers. But, as with housekeeping, I'm not taking any chances.