by Julie, enjoying summer in Massachusetts
I am delighted to welcome friend of the Wickeds Leslie Wheeler back to the blog. She has a new book coming out this month, and we’re delighted to help her celebrate.
The Flower Thief
by Leslie Wheeler
There’s a scene in my latest mystery, Shuntoll Road, where a male character describes digging up peony plants by the light of the moon in an old, abandoned garden, and replanting them in his lover’s garden. A beta reader was horrified. “Stealing from private property!” she wrote in the margin.
You wouldn’t be so shocked if you had a mother like mine, I thought. On the outside, Mom looked like any other oh-so-proper Pasadena lady of a certain age. Her silvery hair was beauty salon “done,” her beautiful face with its large hazel eyes carefully made-up. She often sported a lavender velour pants suit with a white collar, and white sneakers on her feet. Yet behind this innocent façade, she possessed a larcenous soul worthy of John Laroche, the orchid thief himself.
My mother grew orchids, roses, camelias, and other flowers in her Southern California gardens, but that didn’t stop her from raiding the gardens of others, if she spotted a bloom she thought would look nice in one of the Japanese flower arrangements she delighted in making. Sometimes she enlisted my help. I remember sneaking into a neighbor’s yard to collect small branches with colorful liquid amber leaves she wanted for an autumnal display. Fortunately, the trees were located a distance from the house, and I arrived safely home with the loot.
On another occasion, Mom wasn’t so lucky. Armed with clippers, under the cover of darkness, she launched a stealth attack on another neighbor’s azaleas. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” the outraged owner demanded when she caught Mom red-handed. But if my mother was chastened by this, she never let on. She even laughed as she mimicked the woman’s angry voice.
With a such a mother, I was bound to become a flower thief. Why did I have a character swipe peony plants in Shuntoll Road? Because I’d done the very same thing.
My Berkshire house sits on an old field with lots of grass, few trees, and the only flowers, wild ones. To create a flower garden, I had to either buy or “find” flowering plants. I did both. In my ramblings on the hill where my home is, I noticed an old abandoned garden. I dubbed it “the secret garden” after the novel by Frances Hodgson Barnett I’d enjoyed as a child. At one time, this garden was so stunning that the townspeople made special trips just to admire it. But after the death of the woman who’d tended it, it fell into disrepair. Weeds sprang up to choke the gorgeous peonies, daylilies, phlox, and other flowers that grew there. The property owners lived far away in upstate New York. They were not about to restore the garden. Channeling Mom, I dug up some of the peony plants and other flowers and brought them home to be replanted in the border I planned. I considered this a form of recycling. And recycling is good, right?
Now, many years later, you can’t see the peonies and other flowers that once grew in the secret garden, but my pilfered plants have thrived in their new home. They are a source of great pleasure to me. As are the purloined peonies to Kathryn Stinson, the protagonist of Shuntoll Road.
Readers: Do you have a family member who has influenced you and/or your characters for better . . . or worse? One of the commentators will receive an ARC of Shuntoll Road.
ABOUT SHUNTOLL ROAD:
Boston library curator Kathryn Stinson returns to the Berkshires, hoping to rebuild her romance with Earl Barker, but ends up battling a New York developer, determined to turn the property she’s been renting into an upscale development. The fight pits her against Earl, who has been offered the job of clearing the land. When a fire breaks out in the woods, the burned body of another opponent is discovered. Did he die attempting to escape a fire he set, or was the fire set to cover up his murder? Kathryn’s search for answers leads her to other questions about the developer’s connection to a friend of hers who fled New York years ago for mysterious reasons. The information she uncovers puts her in grave danger.
ABOUT LESLIE WHEELER:
An award-winning author of non-fiction, Leslie Wheeler writes two mystery series. Titles in the Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries are Rattlesnake Hill and Shuntoll Road. Her Miranda Lewis Mysteries debuted with Murder at Plimoth Plantation and includes two other titles. Wheeler’s mystery shorts have appeared in numerous anthologies including the Best New England Crime Stories series. She divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond.