The Azalea Assault
Publisher: Penguin Group
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Retail Price: 7.99
Roanoke, Virginia, is home to some of the country’s most exquisite gardens, and it’s Camellia Harris’ job to promote them. But when an out of towner turns up dead, she discovers there’s no good way to spin murder…
Camellia Harris has achieved a coup in the PR world. The premier national magazine for garden lovers has agreed to feature one of Roanoke’s most spectacular gardens in its pages—and world-famous photographer Jean-Jacques Georges is going to shoot the spread. But at the welcoming party, Jean-Jacques insults several guests, complains that flowers are boring, and gooses almost every woman in the room. When a body is found the next morning, sprawled across the azaleas, it’s almost no surprise that the victim is Jean-Jacques.
With Cam’s brother-in-law blamed for the crime—and her reporter boyfriend, Rob, wanting the scoop—Cam decides to use her skills to solve the murder. Luckily a PR pro like Cam knows how to be nosy…
For fans of: Joyce and Jim Lavene
When renowned photographer Jean-Jacques Georges agrees to come to Roanoke, Virginia and take pictures of the city's gardens for a spread to appear in Garden Delights magazine, Roanoke Garden Society public relations guru Camellia "Cam" Harris is over the moon. True, coordinating the three-day shoot will require a lot of work on her part, but the kind of exposure the feature will provide for both the city and the Society is more than worth the effort.
Unfortunately for Cam, however, while Jean-Jacques may be talented, he's also rude and boorish, and his snide remarks and wandering hands conspire to ruin the party the Society throws to welcome him and the Garden Delights crew to town. Cam's confident she can still make the shoot a success, though – until Jean-Jacques turns up dead the next morning, a pair of pruning shears through his abdomen. At first, Cam's biggest concern is finding a new photographer to do the shoot; she's put too much work into the project to allow Garden Delights to just hand the feature over to another city. But when the police start eying Cam's ex-convict of a brother-in-law as their main suspect, she realizes there's another task that needs to be placed at the top of her to-do list: solving Jean-Jacques' murder and helping the police catch the real killer before her sister's husband winds up back behind bars.
The Azalea Assault is the first in Alyse Carson's new Garden Society Mystery series, and I’m sorry to say, it just never really gels as a book. Carson writes about plants and gardening with apparent affection, but that’s about the only compliment I can pay. The setup is clunky, the prose is awkward, and Carson has a stilted narrative style that saps the story of flow and renders the already haphazard and convoluted plot even more difficult to follow. Carson’s writing is littered with superfluous details that do nothing but distract, and far too many of her scenes do little if no work. There’s not enough action, what drama there is feels manufactured, and Carson never successfully convinces the reader of the stakes. The central mystery starts out interesting, but goes off the rails when the author starts trying to establish motives for her suspects. The investigation conducted by the local police force is so inept as to be comical. Carson doesn’t deploy nearly enough clues to entice the reader to try and solve the crime on his or her own. And the book’s conclusion is somewhat anticlimactic and doesn’t offer much in the way of closure.
The cast feels too large by half, and despite the fact that this is the series debut, none of the characters are ever properly introduced, making the opening chapters more than a tad confusing. From Cam on down to the most minor of suspects, the personalities who populate Carson’s fictional world feel fake and hollow and are lacking in motivation, individuality, and internal consistency. Few of her characters’ actions feel natural or earned, and the chemistry between her players – particularly those who are supposed to be romantically involved – is non-existent.
I think there may actually be some decent ideas in The Azalea Assault, but it’s almost impossible to see them underneath all the stuff and nonsense. Carson may have something magnificent up her sleeve for her sophomore effort, but I, for one, will probably never find out.
Reviewed by Kat N.
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