A few months ago I found a book that looked like a standard cozy mystery. It had a cat on the cover, lots of colors, and just that aura of “this is a book you can read quickly and relax with.” Winter was hard on my spirits, so over the next few weeks I would look at that book and think, I’m so excited to read that… soon. Then there was news that Coronavirus was on the rise in China and I was finished with some other, more serious, books. It was time for that good cozy read.
The Accidental Florist
The Accidental Florist is by Jill Churchill, and it’s the sixteenth book in the Jane Jeffry series. Had I known that before I started reading, I may have had different expectations. In fact, in my research now I see that this book ended the series. Coincidence? What drew me to the book though was that Churchill was the recipient of the Agatha and Macavity Awards for the first Jane Jeffry novel. I was really looking forward to a light, well-plotted murder mystery.
The book follows Jane Jeffry and her friend Shelley as they plan Jane’s wedding to her detective boyfriend Mel. Along the way, Mel asks them to take a self-defense course, and after a few sessions the instructor is murdered. In typical cozy fashion, we don’t see the gruesome details, but here’s where the plot gets a little strange for a book that is supposedly a mystery. Jane and Shelley have very little to do with solving the murder and Mel fills them in after the crime has been solved. This book is more about how boring Jane’s everyday life is than about her ingenuity when faced with murder.
Within the first twenty pages I could easily tell this book wasn’t what I’d had in mind. The beginning of chapter two involves some riveting Starbucks talk between Jane and Shelley:
‘I have coffee brewing. I found a new brand at a Starbucks in Kansas. A hint of hazelnut flavoring, I think. But not saying so on the container. Want to try it out with me?’
‘Sure,’ Shelley said, pitching her own newspaper on her kitchen porch. […]
‘This coffee is good. I wonder if our own Starbucks carries it as well?’
‘I’ve always just had their mocha when I buy it there. We’ll have to go look and see next time we stop by.”
Maybe this is the beginning of the mystery part of the novel? They’ll go to Starbucks and get great service, and then one of the customers dies mysteriously? No. This is just the brand of bland conversation Churchill employs shamelessly in this book.
Treatment of Women
Maybe I was too annoyed with the book to give Jill Churchill the benefit of the doubt, but I thought the book also belied some biases I wasn’t interested in hearing about.
‘Todd, my dear son, sometimes old ladies turn mean. If I do, promise you’ll stash me away somewhere.’
Later, speaking about the same character:
Ted added, with perfect honesty, that she was a difficult person. Not friendly at all.
‘We are equipped to deal with women like that,’ the manager said with a smile.
And in a moment discussing the evil future mother-in-law:
‘I’ve dealt with women like this before and know how to keep them in their proper places.’
Maybe I’m being pedantic, but two of the people uttering these quotes are running businesses and would be more accurate and neutral if they simply said, “people like that.” Old ladies can turn mean though, and mothers-in-law are problematic, and Jane only rarely even considers being the bigger woman when dealing with her deceased husband’s mother or her future husband’s mother. And to what end? It’s no new plot device to have a difficult mother-in-law ruining the wedding or trying to steal the inheritance. Anyone can be difficult, but what makes me uncomfortable is the infighting and “women like that” attitudes the author unknowingly endorses throughout the book.
I have never read a mystery where so little happens, or where I felt less interested in the wedding the book focuses on. Even reflecting on the book again tires me, and I’m reminded of my hunger for a mystery. I cannot stress enough how uninspired the plot of the book was, or how much of the book involves Jane narrating her dull life. I am perhaps giving the book too much credit (and I certainly don’t have the actual evidence for it) when I say The Accidental Florist reads like it could be fan fiction for the Jane Jeffry series. Skip this book and read something better.