I invite readers to survey shelves of new paperbacks for so-called detective or thriller fiction. These are the days of cruel drug gangs threatening detectives whose own backgrounds are shady. Or the plots rely on “serial killers” who inspire page turning by shoving menace closer and closer to the protagonists. Mayhem rules! Twisted psyches reappear with a frightening regularity.
If you are weary of gory violence filling pages and of narratives that stagger from one dead body to the next, Marty Eberhardt, a Silver Citian with her premier detective novel, offers relief. In fact, Eberhardt’s Death in a Desert Garden destroys more than one bloody formula of modern mysteries.
Eberhardt recalls that her teen reading followed the grand dame of mystery, Agatha Christie. Though Christie suggested basic techniques, Death in Desert Garden lies far from a cozy English village crowded with deadly eccentrics. Familiar suspects do inhabit the Tucson garden, however. With her skillful dialog, the author convinces a reader that a governing board for a non-profit can be as ominous as a Mafia family.
Is the egocentric professor, the board’s only professional botanist, capable of murder? With sly details Eberhardt convinces us that if he isn’t the villain, he should be. Perhaps the board chairman, a driven restauranteur, bore an ancient urge for revenge against the East Coast snob, the garden’s founder, who fell victim to a justifiable homicide. Maybe another ancient wrong, fostered in a tony Virginia private school, led to vengeance?
It’s up to Bea Rivers, the garden’s volunteer coordinator, to sift through the crime and its motives before the police come to a wrong conclusion. It’s with Bea– and her precarious hold on a job in an underfunded non-profit– that Death in a Desert Garden finds its center. She’s no Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, whose little grey cells deliver the key to unlock an enigma. She’s a single mom beset by a philandering ex, two very vibrant kids, and a new boyfriend who may not be a new boyfriend.
Oppressed by Tucson’s heat and at social loose ends, Bea stands in front of her closet deciding whether to toss a garment into the Goodwill bag. Just as she uncovers scheming, back-biting and messages from flowers, she receives from the summer care program the stern note every parent dreads—she must treat her kids for head lice. Single parenthood requires , if not a village, then at least a corral full of cooperative friends.
Often puzzled, Bea remains our trustworthy guide to the heart of this mystery. It’s a remarkable feature of this novel that we seek “the solution” because Bea Rivers wants the true answer, not because a plot confection demands it.
Bea and the knowledgeable exposition of southwestern flora are why I’m anticipating with eagerness the next desert garden mystery, already scheduled for a 2023 release.
Stephanie Medina Torres’ 21 Days with its 21 poems speaks in a straight-forward voice. No fancy vocabulary, no hidden allusions. Within a handful of poems we gain glimpses of Torres’ world, just as she invites readers to do in her self-introduction on the book’s back cover.
All but one of the poems consume less than a page, and all feature rhymes, sometimes at line ends and sometimes with trickier internal-external rhymes, a rhyme scheme at which Torres excels.
Most readers can share Torres’ heartfelt expressions of love and longing for a deceased father or for grown kids who have moved away from parents. The mystery of the future contained within the elfin, dancing granddaughter called Boo is particular to the poet, but the poet’s excitement at possibilities is surely open to us all.
Many also feel how a silent split with a brother or sister can stab. Some, too, have sat in darkness weeping from a departure without a goodbye.
But, for the uniqueness that Torres possesses, we join her “cruising low and slow” in “bombitas fresh and shined up,” cars or trucks rolled and tucked, making a family of their riders — Viejitos Car Club Worldwide. ¡Hijole!