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FRUIT OF THE POISONED TREE
by Joyce and Jim Lavene
Berkley, May 2006
272 pages
$6.99
ISBN: 0425209679


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Botanist Peggy Lee attempts to juggle managing her shop, the Potting Shed in Charlotte, North Carolina, her role as a professor at nearby Queens College (or University), and a romance with a man much younger than her 52 years.

Driving down a somewhat treacherous road, Peggy and her assistant Sam see a Lincoln drive off the ramp on the highway. Peggy immediately recognizes the car as belonging to Park Lamonte, a college friend who sold out his ideals for life as a high-priced attorney. When she reaches him in his last moments, Park tells Peggy that he fell asleep at the wheel.

The police think that Park committed suicide, since some of his financial ventures failed. As things begin to point to a homicide, Park's wife, Beth, comes under suspicion because of a huge insurance policy he has recently taken out. Park's vicious mother (who has always hated Beth) denounces her as the murderer. To make matters worse for Beth, her mother-in-law is also murdered.

Peggy leaps head first into the investigation and uses her knowledge of poisonous plants to verify that a food basket delivered to Park's hotel room was laced with the poisonous honey of the horse chestnut tree. The motive -- surprise! -- is greed, a person determined to take all the money from the insurance policy.

All the characters are well-drawn and cleverly individualized. The botanical information never gets in the way of the story, and the plot is just complex enough to keep the reader in suspense.

Two problems: There are unresolved issues with the identity of Peggy's Internet chess partner, who has all sorts of information about Peggy and the case. Second, one wonders how much time the Lavenes have spent in academia lately. Peggy's assistant, Selena, is solving the troubles she's having in math class by dating her professor. She scoffs at "the old days," when professors couldn't date students.

She has it totally backwards. In "the old days," it was not uncommon to see professors strolling the campus hand-in-hand with their girlfriends. In recent years, a professor dating a student would be guilty of sexual harassment, no matter how consensual the relationship. He would be out on his kester, tenure or not.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, May 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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