Too Soon For Flowers

Written by Margaret Miles
Review by Steve Lewis

You’re probably like me and when a new author starts a new series with a new character, you miss the first two or three and pick up the fourth one as the first one to read. Not this time. Here are the first two in a chronological sequence of mysteries taking place in colonial Massachusetts, and both are well worth reading. The town is Bracebridge, halfway between Boston and Worcester. Time: the fall of 1763 and the spring of 1764.

Reading two in succession, rare for me, only builds to the sense of community the author obviously intends. Young widow Charlotte Willett, who does most of the detective work, is plain in looks, but her inquisitive mind is far from simple. Her next-door neighbor, Richard Longfellow, is village selectman and of a scientific bent. His sister Diana, whose visits from Boston are not uncommon, is a flirtful sort, and rounding out the list of major players is the enigmatic Captain Montagu, whose “duties and obligations [to the Crown were] not commonly understood.” He also seems to favor Diana.

The incident that’s at the center of the first book is, by eyewitness account, that of spontaneous human combustion. Mrs. Willett is not so sure, and her instincts are quite correct. In the second novel, a young girl dies while being quarantined after being inoculated for smallpox, a deadly scourge at that time of the nation’s history.

Oddly, the mystery is better handled in the first book, and matters of historical interest more capably in the second — even at times to making certainly sections too ‘talky’ in regard to current events, and waxing philosophical on matters of relationships between the sexes and the nature of death.

While the first mystery is an excellent model of fair play detection, Miles allows the dead girl’s secret to be suspected by the reader far too early in the second, and too much coincidence is allowed to enter in. But by that time, we’ve also had a chance to grow even more comfortable and at home with the various and sundry folks in Bracebridge, and both books are very nearly equally enjoyable.