Book Review - “The Blue Rose”

Anthony Eglin has written a horticultural mystery novel, a very imaginative and striking idea. He sent out announcements to garden clubs and that is how I came across his book. His usual beat is rose gardening. He has made gardening videotapes and has been awarded a prize for his personal rose garden in Sonoma. Mr Eglin’s credentials are thus impeccable.
The mystery novel set in gardening circles is not altogether unknown. One of the very first was by Sheila Pim, an Irishwoman who wrote Common or Garden Crime back in 1945. More recently Anne Ripley has devoted herself to this genre, with books such as Mulch, Harvest of Murder and Death at the Spring Plant Sale. There are also other writers, both English and American.
Making use of a professional skill such as horticulture or in other cases, cooking, fishing, breeding cats and so forth is an excellent way of incorporating realism and credibility into a crime novel. Ministers of several major religions also feature in many such works: Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by the late Harry Kemelman is a particularly attractive one.
Anthony Eglin grew up in England but has lived in the US for many years. As a result he writes in a truly mid-Atlantic style. English usage such as “blathering on” (chattering too much) or “spatchocked” (jammed into) sits side by side with American wording, “called up” (UK: ringing up) and “going out the door” (UK: going out of the door).
Reviewing a mystery story is a fine art, telling the prospective reader enough to make them want to read the book but not so much that it gives the game away. Anthony Eglin introduces his chief characters right at the beginning. The Sheppards, a delightful married couple, buy an old parsonage in a Wiltshire village, Steeple Tarrant. Alex is an architect and Kate owns an antique store in a nearby country town.
The parsonage garden has been neglected for ages and while Kate is entranced by its possibilities, Alex sees only dreary hard work ahead. All this changes when they hack through into the rear of the property and find a flourishing rose bush bearing sapphire blue flowers.
Creating a truly blue rose is a holy grail of rose breeding, and has never been accomplished. Here is where the author shows us his depth of knowledge, explaining that the gene for bright blue delphinidin cannot be taken from the genus in which it resides and made to work with rose genes.
The rest of the book is devoted to what might happen once the barrier were overcome. Visions of gigantic wealth dance before the Sheppards’ eyes. There is a large cast of supporting characters and the author distinguishes them very nicely through dialogue.
The insights into large but purely imaginary nursery firms are not pretty. Before the end of the book the Sheppards are heartily sick of their discovery. It has caused them only grief. That is all I am going to tell you. The rest is up to you to find out.
Eglin, Anthony. The Blue Rose. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004.
Find this book at the Arboretum Library here.
We're fortunate to be featuring book reviews by horticultural history author Judith M. Taylor. After a career in neurology she retired to northern California and now “practices history without a license.”  She is currently working on her forth book and is the honorary librarian and book editor for the San Francisco Garden Club. Her website is Horthistoria.

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