Gardening Can Be Murder

How Poisonous Poppies, Sinister Shovels, and Grim Gardens Have Inspired Mystery Writers

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Pub Date 05 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 12 Sep 2023

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“This book is dangerous. A veritable cornucopia of crime fiction and gardening lore, it faces the reader with multiple temptations—books to seek out, plants to obtain, garden tours to book.” —Vicki Lane, author of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries
With their deadly plants, razor-sharp shears, shady corners, and ready-made burial sites, gardens make an ideal scene for the perfect murder. But the outsize influence that gardens and gardening have had on the mystery genre has been underappreciated. Now, Marta McDowell, a writer and gardener with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, illuminates the many ways in which our greatest mystery writers, from Edgar Allen Poe to authors on today’s bestseller lists, have found inspiration in the sinister side of gardens.

From the cozy to the hardboiled, the literary to the pulp, and the classic to the contemporary, Gardening Can Be Murder is the first book to explore the mystery genre’s many surprising horticultural connections. Meet plant-obsessed detectives and spooky groundskeeper suspects, witness toxic teas served in foul play, and tour the gardens—both real and imagined—that have been the settings for fiction’s ghastliest misdeeds. A New York Times bestselling author herself, McDowell also introduces us to some of today’s top writers who consider gardening integral to their craft, assuring that horticultural themes will remain a staple of the genre for countless twisting plots to come.
“This book is dangerous. A veritable cornucopia of crime fiction and gardening lore, it faces the reader with multiple temptations—books to seek out, plants to obtain, garden tours to book.” —Vicki...

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ISBN 9781643261126
PRICE $29.00 (USD)

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Average rating from 38 members

Featured Reviews

A great book for mystery and garden lovers! It dives into various facets of mysteries that are all about plants. At first, I thought this might just be about poisons, but the author covers detectives who love gardening, settings that involves gardens, motives, and more! A fun book (plus it's full of essentially book recommendations)!

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Pros: As someone who loves both plants and murder mysteries, I thought this book was so much fun and informative! This book examines plants as a clue or the weapon (poison), gardens as the setting, gardens and plants as metaphors, gardening tools as weapons, and the gardens of authors. Although the author does discuss the plots of murder mysteries, she is very careful not to spoil the books for readers who have not (yet) read them. As I read, I added books and authors to my to-read list and was thrilled to find a list of books at the end!

Cons: This was a very Anglo-centric book in the books and authors it featured. I would have loved to see more diversity, and perhaps this is an opportunity for a follow up book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Timber Press for the opportunity to read this book.

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As a fan of murder mysteries and an avid gardener, I found this book fascinating. From the deadly plants themselves to the way clever authors have figured a way for their fiendish villains to administer them to their unsuspecting prey, I was hooked.

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As a gardener, I loved Gardening Can Be Murder (even though mysteries are not a preferred genre).

Gardening Can Be Murder describes garden topics with many (MANY) books that span decades. A very nice book list at the back (so that you don't need to worry about trying to capture all the books to add to your TBR (to be read) list.

Not a very long book and it contains many (beautiful) illustrations. I found it "just right".

My favorite part of the book was where the author describes authors gardens.

Once again, I thank NetGalley for introducing me to a "new to me" author/Marta McDowell. Thank you to NetGalley, Marta McDowell and Timber Press the publisher for providing the opportunity for me to review the advance read copy of Gardening Can Be Murder in exchange for an honest review. Publication date is 12 Sep 2023.

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Gardening Can Be Murder: How Poisonous Poppies, Sinister Shovels, and Grim Gardens Have Inspired Mystery Writers. What delightful title. Myself, I’m a notorious and prolific murderer of plants, but I love a good mystery and I love the aesthetic of gardens and greenery. While this book is probably most interesting to gardening enthusiasts it’s really fun learning about the history of how gardens play a roll and have inspired mystery writers and their stories.

I loved that not only was it an interesting read but that it also gave me more to look forward to because I came away with a list of books to check out and also some pretty amazing gardens I would love to check out in person one day. The illustrations by Yolanda V. Fundora were also a total mood. They really complimented the content of the book. This is a short but slow paced relaxing read, perfect for a rainy day with a hot cup of herbal tea.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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This was a rather engaging book that linked the use of gardening aspects within mystery books. The author goes in depth with detailing the use of poisons. The use of gardens as a location for the murder/mystery is also featured. I loved the illustrations that appeared between the chapters. This is very well thought out book. The author has obviously put in much research in writing this book. Many of the books mentioned were older books; I would have liked to have seen more modern books included.

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I absolutely loved reading this book. I was completely drawn into the topic and could not stop reading it.

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Although this isn't my typical read, I really enjoyed this book. I've always been fascinated by deadly and poisonous plants so I figured this would be right up my alley. It explores the ways that authors incorporate plants and gardens into stories, during the present time and way back when. Whether they are used as plot points, like a toxic plant used to commit a crime, or part of a character's backstory, like the gardening hobby of a character investigating a crime. Or even as the scene of a crime, with a victim dying among flowers and bushes or a forest of trees. I think people take lovely settings like these for granted and the author has so many examples of stories with a horticultural twist.

Like SO many examples under every topic. There are numerous stories referenced that I've never heard of, casually lumped in with some of the most famous stories out there. I was excited when I saw the description of "The Turn of the Key" by Ruth Ware, one of my favorite contemporary authors. A poisonous garden figures heavily in that story, by the way, and is part of why I enjoyed that book. The chapter on the most common poisonous plants contains a great summary of each plant, which part of it is poisonous, and which books they feature in. That's one of the best aspects about this book, that it refers to so many other stories that you may be interested in, not just plants.

Now, I'm sure this book will draw comparisons to "Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities." But it doesn't compete with that book; rather, it's the perfect compliment. If you loved that one, you will love this one. And if you know someone who loves to garden but doesn't read, this book would be the perfect gift to get them reading more. And then they're on their way to becoming a murder mystery addict like so many of us - works for me!

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Thank you Netgalley for the advance reader copy of Gardening Can Be Murder by Martha McDowell in exchange for an honest review. This book does a wonderful, in depth analysis of how the garden has influenced, contributed and become a strong structure of mystery writing.

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As an avid gardener, Gardening Can Be Murder is right up my alley, and don't let the title fool you... Marta McDowell, our author, isn't teaching readers how to commit crimes with plants, but instead, she's highlighting the many writers and poets throughout the centuries who've tasked their fictional murderers with the knowledge to poison and penetrate their victims with ordinary garden plants. From Agatha Christie to Arthur Conan Doyle, so many of the greats in mystery fiction have done their research when it comes to the best flowers and grasses to add to a deadly tincture.

Each chapter walks readers through the vast and diverse world of botany and agricultural homicide. Gardening Can be Murder is set to publish on September 12, 2023, and I am so thankful to Timber Press for sending me an excellent advanced reader's copy.

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I’m unreasonably excited about Marta McDowell’s “Gardening Can Be Murder” — How many should I buy for Christmas presents? How do I convince my botanical book clubs (The Secret Garden Book Club at Ashton Gardens and Read Between the Spines of The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix) to choose this as a selection? Will I be babbling to my fellow horticultural volunteers at the university about “oh, look! a “Helleborus niger” with white flowers” but we gardeners know that niger means black and that here “black” is about the poisonous tuber?

Obviously this is my perfect book, but Marta McDowell is also the queen of lacing literature with landscaping. I knew her work when my aforementioned book club chose her “Unearthing the Secret Garden” about Francis Hodgson Burnett’s plant inspirations. She has also written books about the gardens of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, and the White House. Here she has gathered a wide compendium of authors, mystery books involving plants, wicked gardens, and botanical murder means (we gardeners can stab you with pruners, take off fingers with loppers, choke you with weed killer, or strangle you with floral wire, and then we have alibi shovels to bury you and let you become fertilizer).

The research that Ms.McDowell did is absolutely amazing and incredibly comprehensive. She could write separate books about Agatha Christie and Miss Marple (their trendy Japanese gardens of the early 1910s and the great exhibitions Ms. Christie might have attended) or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes’s experiments with plant poisons. I think she must have been collecting literary landscaping stories for years. There are so many gardening mysteries I’ve missed, but thanks to the author, I’ve added them to my to-be-read list.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars! This book is more than just for gardeners, too. I recalled that my love of mystery novels started as a teenager with Jane Marple and I was quietly absorbing facts like white-flowering silver fleece vine was a menace. Even non-gardeners have probably read enough about jimson weed/angel’s trumpet (an entire season of the cable series, “The Sinner” was based on a murderous child brewing tea from that plant) to know that it’s appearance in a story might be a clue.

Thank you to Timber Press and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Fabulously fun! Wonderful, accessible read. Enlightening and challenging. Have many readers to recommend this to due to the tone balanced between cheeky and academic . Love it for gardeners, mystery lovers, and writers alike.

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As a gardener myself, this book took me on a deep dive into not only my own garden but those around the world. I came away with a new record for my tbr and a new appreciation for the innocent looking ornamental plants that have been used as accomplices throughout the history of murder mysteries. If you like books about books, gardening tips, and a look at the motifs that examine good versus evil, this may be the book for you!

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Gardening Can Be Murder by Marta McDowell is a unique exploration of the connection between gardens and the mystery genre. McDowell, an experienced gardener and writer, delves into the many ways gardens have inspired mystery writers throughout history. From cozy mysteries to hardboiled detective novels, McDowell covers it all.

The book is organized in a way that is easy to follow, with chapters dedicated to specific themes such as poisonous plants, spooky groundskeepers, and garden settings. McDowell does an excellent job of including a variety of examples from classic literature to contemporary bestsellers, as well as real-life garden crimes.

The writing is engaging and informative, making the book accessible to both gardening enthusiasts and mystery fans alike. McDowell's own love of both gardening and the mystery genre is evident throughout the book, adding a personal touch to the exploration.

Overall, Gardening Can Be Murder is a fascinating and entertaining read that sheds light on a unique aspect of the mystery genre. McDowell's passion and knowledge make this book a must-read for anyone interested in gardening, mysteries, or the intersection between the two.

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Marta McDowell's books are always engaging and well written. Her previous books have been biographies so this one takes a detour, exploring mystery novels that feature some aspect of gardening whether it relates to the plot, how the crime is committed or how it is solved. I have to confess that I found myself skimming some of it but I think that was because I am very familiar with the topic. I did discover some titles and authors that were unfamiliar.

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Disclosure: An ebook was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review which I willingly provide below.

Books about books are one of my favorite things to read, which is why I chose to review this non-fiction book. "Gardening Can be Murder" explores the relationship between gardening and mystery novels, providing information, lore, and literary connections that are perfect for mystery readers.

McDowell generously shares her extensive knowledge of gardening, breaking down each facet before providing a book excerpt to illustrate that point. After reading this book, I have added so many books to my TBR list. This book covers everything from gardening detectives to poisonous plants. Each chapter explores the different components of a great mystery story: detective, setting, motive, means, clues, and suspects.

Writers commonly find inspiration in their daily lives, so this book would not be complete without sharing the gardening lives of our favorite mystery authors. For instance, I had no idea that Arthur Conan Doyle studied medicine and botany before writing Sherlock Holmes, or that Rex Stout, the author of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, had grown 192 varieties of irises.

This book deserves a place on any mystery reader's shelf, and once it is published, it will find a home on mine.

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Who knew gardening can be so deadly! This is an interesting and unique read, highlighting all the ways gardening has been used in various mysteries from Shakespeare and Agatha Christie to M.C. Beaton and Ruth Ware, using popular garden crime scenes, poisonous plants and flowers, and various gardening tools to create murderous crimes. Lots of fun.

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This certainly isn't your everyday read but it's interesting nonetheless. This book takes you on a wild journey learning about poisonous plants and the use of such beautiful instruments of destruction in stories. Bookworms, Plant and/or Gardening enthusiasts will surely enjoy this book.

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A love letter to horticulture, gardening, and the authors that both apply the concept in everyday life as well as in their books.

I absolutely loved this book and the way it’s sections were broken down as well as the information that was contained. Talk about an interesting, but still informative, read! The author has a way of writing that keeps the reader engaged while still giving the, a wealth of information, and that is a gift that I have found to be very rare these days. Can’t wait to get my hands on a hard copy and start recommending to anyone interested in the topics!

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I love a good murder mystery and this focuses on the means of the murder, getting into the details on who used what and how it was cultivated. This was a fascinating look at different series where poison is used as well as what the gardens looked like. A well-researched reference book on gardens and their deadly inhabitants. Highly recommended for those wanting a little more detail on what can be used and where to find them in our favorite reads.

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Gardening Can Be Murder by Marta McDowell is a fun and informative book, full of tidbits that will make reading (and watching, for that matter) mysteries that much more engaging.

From the characters and scenes to the means and motives for murder, we are led through how thoroughly gardening and plants have played roles in classic murder mysteries. Not to mention in the lives of many of the writers themselves.

The writing is engaging and we are given a brisk tour of every aspect. Yes, the Latin names are included, as they should be, but it isn't required that you memorize them, so just keep reading. They really aren't that extensive or disruptive. Plus looking at the names can give some clues about them, and if you like mysteries then looking for clues should be right up your alley.

I would recommend this to mystery lovers as well as those who simply enjoy learning about the elements that make up any genre of literature.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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This is a really great read for gardening lovers. I enjoyed it and can think of a few friends to recommend this title to. Love the cover art as well! I hope to buy a physical copy at the publish date.

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First, a big thank you to NetGalley and Timber Press for the opportunity to read this book.

As a longtime lover of murder mysteries and the poison trope, how could I not immediately be drawn to a title like "Gardening Can Be Murder: How Poisonous Poppies, Sinister Shovels, and Grim Gardens Have Inspired Mystery Writers"?

This book is so much more than poison and is everything from a reference guide to an excellent way to learn more about some of our favorite writers and characters. Each chapter looks over different aspects of the world of mystery novels. From Nero Wolfe's obsession with orchids to a description of foxglove and its life as a plant that can save or kill, each page is a glimpse into the depth of plotting.

It is so fitting in the final pages to use Margaret Atwood's quote about gardening and gardeners not being rational. How perfect to combine the world of gardening and murder in this book.

While a short book, it can feel quite dense at times. After all, there is so much packed in a book with fewer pages than many of the novels it references. It can feel at times that you are reading a textbook which is the only real downfall. I love the references and reading lists in the back of the book. There are so many sources and a perfect way to bring every reader to their next mystery!

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As someone who loves to garden and read a mystery novel, this book represented two of my major interests. It goes into depth about different plants that have inspired mystery authors to write stories over time. It was well researched and provided a reader with a lot of new information without over complicating it. The illustrations included in the book were also a nice touch! Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book.

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Very entertaining book, at least for someone like me who loves both mysteries and plants.

What I liked: the writing hits the zone between too sparse and overly wordy, something I appreciate, the book is well-researched and contains much I didn't, even as a well-read horticulure professional.

What I didn't like: can't think of anything here. Well worth reading.

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I loved this book, and the drawings interspersed throughout the book are delightful. The book list in the back is an excellent idea and I have a lot of books to suggest for my book clubs. Thank you Netgally for providing this book to me. It's a fun, unexpected, and thoroughly enjoyable book for anyone who enjoys murder mysteries, gardening, or just wants a light-hearted fun read.

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