Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.
If you are a fan of Susan Wittig Albert's you'll know that she writes the China Bayles Herbal Mysteries whose protagonist is an ex-big-city lawyer turned small-town proprietor of an herb shop and The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter with the beloved children's author solving mysteries that occur near her home in England's Lake District, as well as a mystery series in collaboration with her husband Bill, and some non-fiction titles as well.
Last year Ms. Albert published the first in yet another series, about a women's gardening club located in the fictional town of Darling, Alabama who call themselves The Darling Dahlias. The Naked Ladies (released July 5) is the second in the series.
The reclusive Miss Hamer's house has a lovely bed of naked ladies in front of it. ("Naked lady" is the common term for lycoris squamigera, because the flowers appear after the leaves have withered and dropped.)
However, the flowers are not the only naked ladies at Miss Hamer's house. The old lady's niece Miss Nona Jean Jamison has moved in, and Verna Tidwell, the Dahlia's secretary, is certain that Nona Jean is really an ex-Ziegfield dancer called Lorelei LaMotte. Verna enlists her friends (the two other single young members of the group) Elizabeth Lacy and Myra May Mosswell to help her find out the real reason for Nona Jean's incognito visit.
The author has done an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere of the American South in the early days of the Depression. As Ms. Albert notes in her foreword,
...the characters use the terms "colored", "colored folk", and "Negro" when they refer to African Americans, and the attitudes of white people toward their black fellow citizens reflect the conscious and unconscious racism of the times... I intend no offense.
Attitudes towards women were also very different in those times, and the three young members of the gardening club, (though Verna is a widow) unmarried women who live alone and work to support themselves are considered unconventional .
Included at the end of the volume are "old-fashioned" housecleaning tips, and some of the Dahlia's favorite recipes, which are definitely worth trying.
*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.