Marigolds for Mourning
by Audrey Stallsmith
(Waterbrook Press,, $6.95, G) ISBN 1-57856-054-3
(A Thyme Will Tell Mystery)

I trust you'll forgive me if this review seems a bit vague on the details. There's good reason for that: this is a sequel that absolutely demands having read the first book and I am a bit vague on the details. The character dynamics appear to have been established in the previous book, and I was lost from the very first page. Furthermore, the end of this book should read "To be continued" so the entire experience was unsatisfying.

If you've read Book One of the Thyme Will Tell series, you'll probably want to read this one, too. If you haven't read it, I strongly advise tracking it down because otherwise you're going to be floundering right along with me.

Regan Culver is the owner of an herb farm. Her wealthy physician father had been murdered, and Regan was arrested then cleared when the murderer was discovered. (This history plus complicated family relationships were apparently were dealt with in Book One.) This has made a profound psychological impact on her.

At the start of this book, Regan is engaged to the police chief and high school football coach Matt Olin, but Regan and Matt are still uncertain about the disparities in their origins and social positions. An argument in the first pages over where they'll live after they marry results in their estrangement that lasts until the final chapter. So much for the romance.

The bulk of the plot is a multi-layered mystery. While police chief Matt investigates a present-day murder and attempted murder, Regan is delving into a forty year old mystery that forever devastated a local prominent family. As you might expect, the two investigations turn out to be related.

Gabe Johnson, one of Regan's employees, is an African American high school student who is resented by some members of the community for his high academic achievement as well as the possibility that he might take away the quarterback position on the football team from Jack Hargrove, the youngest member of that prominent family. Following a football victory, Jack dresses in the school mascot costume. A swarm of bees is in the costume, and Jack, who is severely allergic, is stung repeatedly. Only CPR administered by Gabe and Lucerne, the mysterious and exotic new girl in school, saves his life. Was this a tragic accident or was Gabe meant to be the target?

At the hospital it is discovered that Jack is also suffering from a heroin overdose. All his friends deny that Jack has any drug involvement although there has been a growing problem with drugs in the community. Further attempts made on Jack's life while he lies comatose in the hospital convince Matt and Regan that the incident with the bees was no accident. When one of Jack's friends is shot to death in the hospital parking lot and identifies his killer as the murderer in the tragedy forty years ago who was believed to have committed suicide, the mystery deepens. Meanwhile, Jack's mother has asked Regan to look into the murder/suicide that still haunts her and her family.

Marigolds for Mourning is another title from WaterBrook Press which publishes inspirational fiction, that is, books with a Christian theme. Marigolds, however, is less a story with strong religious overtones (the kids pray for Jack's life but that's about all the religious activity) than a squeaky clean story that can be enjoyed by readers who find the obscene language and graphic sex of many contemporary novels to be offensive. The story doesn't pretend that contemporary problems such as drug abuse and racism don't exist; rather they're handled by G-rated characters speaking in G-rated language. Maybe the treatment is unrealistic (are there really high school kids like this anymore?), but it's not oblivious to the reality of modern life.

In general I found the book to be well-written. The dialogue flows smoothly, and the main characters are likeable. Because this is a part of a larger whole, there is a larger cast of characters than is common in a 300 page book; many of them are nearly as important as the heroine. I especially liked Lucerne who has a particularly spirited and outgoing personality. (It's only at the end that the reader learns just how significant an accomplishment this is.)

But I can't recommend this book as a romance, and I can't recommend it on its own. I've read sequels before where my not having read the previous book was a disadvantage but never to this extent. I hope the publisher intends to reissue the books in a set because Book Two is a homeless orphan without Books One and Three to keep it company.

--Lesley Dunlap

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