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American/Cozy Mysteries

Dead Head, Rosemary Harris, Minotaur, $24.99.

Dead Head by Rosemary Harris

This may be the funniest entry yet in Rosemary Harris' now three book series about gardener Paula Holliday. Harris' rhythm and ease with her characters and her narrative seem effortless, though I'm sure they aren't. While Paula hasn't exactly moved to Cabot Cove, things are pretty hopping in her sleepy Connecticut town of Springfield. In the last book, Paula got out of town; in this one, trouble comes to Springfield and lands on one of it's most respectable residents, one who also happens to be one of Paula's (few) friends.

Paula is a little clueless when it comes to both friends and men. Cop Mike O'Malley has been giving her the eye all along, and as to her friend Caroline Sturgis, Paula discovers that the friendship aspect of their working relationship (she does Caroline's landscaping) has snuck up on her. Any attentive reader could have pointed out both of these things to her, but that's definitely part of Paula's charm.

Shocking the entire town, upstanding Caroline is arrested: she's a real life "fugitive mom" who's been hiding in plain sight in suburbia for years, a nice echo of several recent real life incidents. Interspersed throughout the narrative are flashbacks narrated by Caroline, and it's an excellent way for Harris to tie in the parts of her story together without hitting the reader over the head. She's showing, not telling, and in a very effective manner.

As the story of Caroline's past crimes emerges—and the town turns against Paula, as they think she ratted Caroline out—the story gets more complicated, with suspects turning up in both believable and unexpected ways. Paula is hired by Caroline's heartbroken husband Grant, who wants her to find out who really dropped the dime on Caroline, and ideally prevent her return to the slammer.

Paula, with the help of Babe the café owner and her colorful friend Lucy, who joins the story a tad late for my taste (I love Lucy!), figures out what's going on and puts the pieces together, almost a little too late. It ends with two developments that I see as very positive for the series as it moves forward, but I'm not giving away what they are. This is the most sparkling entry yet in this very enjoyable series, though next time: a little more gardening, please. It's spring, and some of us are desperate!

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