In Julia’s Garden is the first book in Laura Wharton’s new series of mysteries featuring Lily McGuire, a forty-something divorcee who works for a landscaping design firm in North Carolina. Lily’s current project is the landscaping of a historic home and garden in Columbia, South Carolina, a project she sort of inherited from her late boss, Macy, who died of a heart attack before the project was completed.
Now, months after Macy’s death, when a grubby old man unexpectedly shows up in Lily’s office, hands her an old diary, and says it caused Macy’s death, Lily doesn’t know what to think. The man leaves as quickly as he arrived, leaving Lily with more questions than answers and a curiosity that only reading the diary will satisfy.
The diary belonged to Julia Norton, daughter to the original family who owned the historic Norton-Grace and its surrounding gardens. But Lily is disappointed at first when the journal seems to be nothing more than the memories of a teenage girl around the time of World War II who enjoyed a lot of parties.
What could it have to do with Macy’s death? Lily’s coworker, Jack Chapman, sheds light on the matter after he takes the diary, without Lily’s permission, and reads it. Lily doesn’t like Jack’s behavior, but she appreciates his information when he tells her it’s a well-known mystery that Julia disappeared about the time the diary ended, and what became of her has never been solved.
Lily now has even more questions than answers. How did Julia disappear? Who ripped out the last two pages of the diary that might have provided clues to the answer? And again, what does any of this have to do with Macy, whom everyone thought died of a heart attack until now?
Unfortunately, Lily has other things to do besides solve a decades-old mystery. She has karate class to attend, as Jack reminds her, though she declines his offer of a ride there. Lily isn’t overly fond of Jack, not exactly thrilled he started attending karate with her, and now she suspects he has romantic interests in her as well. He’s not her type, and Lily doesn’t want him to get the wrong idea.
However when he asks her to go out with him, she finds herself giving in, while making it clear they are only going out as friends. She can’t get involved with him because, among other reasons, “He was what I call a granola, the kind of guy who rides his bike to work, takes little notice about his appearance—which is usually sloppy—and talks about moving to Seattle all the time.” But her snarky thoughts toward Jack are also largely due to Lily’s own hard feelings toward her ex-husband and her unwillingness to be hurt again.
After Lily gets a little drunk at a restaurant and Jack brings her home and acts like a gentleman, her opinion of him slowly starts to change. She soon finds herself glad to have him at her side as more clues come together to solve the mystery of Julia’s disappearance—a mystery that leads Lily into danger.
Mystery readers and especially those in love with gardening will enjoy this book because Julia’s diary passages are filled with discussions of plants that eventually lead Jack and Lily to the clues they need to solve the mystery of her disappearance all those decades ago. And before the mystery is solved, Lily and Jack will unearth family and romantic secrets from the past as well as a treasure.
When it’s all said and done, the novel brings about a satisfying end to the mystery, but not to Jack and Lily’s relationship. It will take another mystery—or more—in the series, I suspect, for that situation to be solved. It would be a crime really, not to give it time to develop. Fortunately, Laura Wharton is hard at work on the second book in the Lily McGuire series, Lights, Camera, Abduction.
For more information about In Julia’s Garden and Laura Wharton the author’s website.
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