Jason Prendergast built his fortune taking minerals from the earth near the Irish town of Drumclash, but bees became the real passion of his life once the mines gave up the last of their riches. When he dies after dining on honey from one of his own hives, village beekeepers suspect local bees are feasting on poisonous plants and infecting hives with deadly nectar.
Prendergast’s solicitor, Edward Gildea, consults his fellow beekeepers who think rhododendrons the most likely source of the poison. Only why is it that only Jason Prendergast’s hives were infected? And why should bees suddenly take a liking to this particular plant? The Civic Guard prefers to look for a human hand and suspicion falls upon those locals who stand to benefit from the old man’s death, including several servants and an aged distant cousin who deliberately hacks her own rhododendron plants to bits in a crazed frenzy.
The chief suspect, however, is Phoebe Prendergast, a niece who gave up a promising career on the stage to look after the old man. Gildea can’t believe in Phoebe’s guilt and conceals from the police the fact that Prendergast was about to add a codicil to his will, disinheriting her should she return to the stage-even after his death. Nor does Phoebe’s odd behavior following the old man’s death bode well for her innocence.
The truth finally emerges during a wild chase in the abandoned mines deep under the earth of the green Irish hills near the old man’s mansion. Once again, Sheila Him paints a vivid and affectionate portrait of life in a small Irish town in this 1952 novel, showing why contemporary critics called her “the Irish AngelaThirkell.”
This is the fourth and last of Pim’s garden mysteries. I have enjoyed every one of them! Each book has a garden theme and is set in a rural Irish village. Well plotted and characters I can like and engage with. The story takes right off and keeps your attention. She does a good job of making each suspect really viable so it’s hard to put your finger on the culprit. If you get a chance to read her mysteries I highly recommend it!
In this one bee-keeping is integral to the story. Not only do you have fun with the mystery, you learn quite a bit about bees and the plants they use. Did you know that bees usually don’t sting when they are swarming? Or that bumblebees have longer tongues than hive bees? Why should the honey become poisonous this year?
‘Edward had two possible answers to that. The first was that the climate of the Vale, so favorable that even tropical plants would grow there, was a perpetual temptation to gardeners to import ever more weird exotics. Somebody might be growing the so-called American yellow jasmine (not a true jasmine) Gelsemium sempervirens, or mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, both plants to which honey poisoning had been attributed. It might be the first year they had flowered, or they might only just have been discovered by the bees. Were this the case it would not be too difficult to trace the source of the trouble and root the plans out. But it does take a large spread of blossom to provide even a teaspoonful of honey. There would have to be Gelsemium or Kalmia by the acre. The Gildeas knew most of the great gardeners in the neighborhood, and if there were anything new on that scale they out to have heard about it.
Edward was more inclined to blame the rhododendrons. They had been mentioned in Xenophon’s account, he discovered, as well as that of Mr. Kingdon Ward. There were plenty of these about. The Gildeas had one in their own garden. The bushes were often buzzing with bumblebees, but the hive bees, according to Edward’s own observation seldom visited them. The nectar was more troublesome for hive bees to reach; bumblebees have longer tongues. That might mean that the flowers were neglected as long as there were other sources of supply, but that for some reason this year, the bees, mysterious creatures that they are, had suddenly taken to them. Or could it be that repeated crossing with imported races, like bees of the yellow Italian strain, had evolved a longer-tongued breed, which could compete with the bumblebees, and that Mr. Prendergast’s bees were driven from such a cross? Fascinated by the various possibilities, Edward was tending to lose himself in speculation, when his wife brought him down to earth.’
This book counts for Bev’s Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt – Gold- Skull and also is book two in my Follow the Clues challenge also at Bev’s …
Bodies in a Bookshop (botanist amateur detectives) > Hive of Suspects (bees and bee-keepers)