Orchids—missing ones, dead ones, rare ones, at a murder scene or a horticultural talk—they’re all over the place in popular Brit mystery author Catherine Aird’s new series procedural, Dead Heading, featuring the organic detective duo Sloan and Crosby, long-timers from more than 20 of her mysteries.
The thoughtful, philosophical Sloan and his sometimes off-the-wall partner Crosby are investigating the death of—you guessed it—a greenhouse full of orchids and plants, all on order for waiting customers. A party or parties unknown left the greenhouse door open on a frosty night, and the heating system was mysteriously on the fritz. Sloan is not sure what sort of criminal activity is involved, or why, but after an orchid specialist goes missing and two orchids are found adorning the dresser in the room of a murdered man, he suspects a culprit who may be more complicated than someone with a grudge against rare blooms.
DI Sloan visits the distraught greenhouse owner, Jack Haines, and his possibly duplicitous assistant Russ, then follows the dead orchid trail to a fledgling plant operation whose owners, Marilyn and Anna, have just suffered a similar loss. The detective learns that Marilyn’s ex is also Jack’s stepson, a coincidence with potentially deep roots. Simultaneously he runs the gamut of homeowners whose gardens were affected by the “kill,” including a well-heeled couple with no discernible aesthetic taste and their garden designer, Anthony Berra, who has to dig fast and furiously to replace what’s been lost.
The missing orchid specialist, Miss Enid Osgathorpe, turns out to be an elderly woman whose former work as a doctor’s secretary left her in possession of a lot of delicious information about her fellow townspeople, and Sloan suspects this may have provided fertile soil for blackmail.
Aird is an expert at creating seemingly innocent local characters going about their lives with a certain devious intent—providing readers with a good laugh and many a sly aside by DI Sloan, who can be a bit shrewd at noticing the quirks of his fellow townspeople.
The missing woman appears to be quite a piece of work, as those who knew her can attest, including old Admiral Catterick, a bit of a sly fox himself; the more timid Benedict Feakins; and some garden-variety landscape designers, greenhouses types and family hangers-on. The literary ground is all set to bear a fruitful harvest of murder and mayhem.