Tour’s Books Blog

March 15, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Evil in Carnations by Kate Collins

Since Stephanie Plum hit the best seller list there have been numerous clones of the genre.  I know, I know, wise-cracking PI books are clones of one iconic character or another as well, so are most police detectives.  In the true spirit of ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, publishers seem to think if one is good, 100 of the same ilk are better.  It’s getting on my nerves.  How many Da Vinci Code knock-offs can there be?  Navy SEALs are endemic in romantic suspense thanks to Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter’s series success.  And plucky heroines in Regency romance have been pretty much done to death.  Looks easy, but it’s harder than you think to get a group of characters that have the chemistry that Janet Evanovich has sustained across so many books.  Alas, most lack the je ne sais quoi that makes the Plum novels so successful.  (In all fairness, even Evanovich has lost her touch of late with plots.)

Consider the old fashioned cozy done by the grand master, Agatha Christie.  Did anyone ever write more finely crafted and subtle character studies?  That’s the atmosphere and genteel approach of Carolyn Hart’s Death On Demand series.  Some authors can breathe such life into characters and situations, it’s immaterial that the plot has a ‘been there, done that’ feel.  Elizabeth Peters has the redoubtable Amelia Peabody firmly ensconced in the cozy firmament, lushly filled with the scents and sounds of Egypt.  The Flower Shop series has always felt like it wasn’t sure whose footsteps to follow, yet wasn’t quite prepared to break new ground.  By default, the books have joined a growing pack of cozies whose most distinguishing feature is being moderately entertaining without ever being truly memorable for either its characters or its plots.

Each title in Kate Collins Flower Shop series has play on words with a floral reference in it.  Evil in Carnations is the 8th outing for Abby Knight, the drop-out law student and (forgive the pun) budding florist who just can’t seem to stop falling over dead bodies or sticking her nose into mysteries.  Despite their derivative nature, I’ve generally enjoyed these little cozies so far, A Rose from the Dead being my favorite so far.

Evil in Carnations has Abby and long time on again/off again boyfriend Marco Salvare (an ex-Army Ranger – sound familiar?) just arriving at her apartment after a red eye flight home from a weekend of make-up sex and fun in Key West in the excruciatingly slow romance.  After a recent rocky period in their relationship, the time in the sun was welcome.  She and Marco are trying to figure out if they have time to shower together – without waking her roommate and childhood friend Nikki Hiduke, a night shift x-ray technician at the local hospital.  Their romantic moment is disturbed (they always are) by a persistent knock at the door.  The police are there and for once it’s not for Abby, it’s for Nikki.  A man she met speed dating, Jonas Treat, has been murdered and she’s suspect number one.

The story unfolds along the usual lines.  Nikki lies, then lies again and finally, when she tells the whole truth (cue yet another round of crying), no one believes her and the cops have a lot of circumstantial evidence to arrest her even without any real motive.  Still, there are an awful lot of people out there with really good reasons to off Treat – an ex-business partner he cheated out of millions on a land deal, an ex-fiancé he cheated on, a landowner he lied to in order to get development rights, an ex-girlfriend he dumped when she stopped buying him gifts – like a diamond Rolex watch and a Ferrari, the homely daughter of the dry cleaning shop owner who harbors a secret lust for him ….. a LOT of folks.  Jonas Treat wasn’t a nice guy.

The ending here is a mildly surprising, but not much if you’ve read her other books.  I did feel a bit cheated as it does come from nowhere based on just one or two vague hints and virtually no character development.  The closing scene with her Friday family dinner at the country club is amusing, but unsurprising.  It’s the kind of book that makes you smile on occasion, but not laugh out loud.  Never really gets the reader tense or worried, just moderately involved.  Like dinner at a chain restaurant – pleasant, filling, decent, reliable, undistinguished, and unoriginal.

The biggest problem with Evil in Carnations is its blandness.  Even the leads come off blah.  By the time a series hits book 8, the characters should leap off the page, clear and alive.  Think of Amelia Peabody, Emerson, Ramses, or Stephanie Plum, Lulu, Grandma Mauser, Joe Morelli and Ranger.  No, characters needn’t be that quirky, but they do need that kind of strong personal presence to carry a first rate cozy.  I barely have a solid mental picture of Abby Knight or Marco Salvare, much less some of the other recurring characters.  I’m finding it hard to stay interested in this series that can only intermittently capture and hold my interest in either the characters or the stories.  I feel frustrated at the lost potential of what could have been a really good book.

My Grade: C

Who would enjoy this book: Fans of JoAnne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson’s books, Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse mysteries, and Miranda Bliss’ Cooking Class mysteries.  The rating would be G.

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