Hive of Suspects by Sheila Pim

When sudden death strikes in this Irish town, 
local beekeepers suspect a poisonous hive

   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)

Peggy Ann

Common or Garden Crime by Sheila Pim

A Dinner party turns deadly when the murderer adds a dash of monkshood in this novel by ‘the Irish Angela Thirkell’

   Lucy Bex preferred Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope to the detective stories her brother Linnaeus gulped down but when a neighbor is murdered with monkshood harvested from Lucy’s own garden, she’s the one who turns detective and spots the crucial clue that prevents the wrong person from going to the gallows. Set in 1943 in the small town of Clonmeen on the outskirts of Dublin, this delightful tale was written by an author who was called ‘the Irish Angela Thirkell’.
   The war in Europe seems very distant in neutral Ireland, though it draws a little nearer when Lucy’s nephew, an officer in the British army, comes home on leave. However, most of the residents are far more interested in how their gardens grow than what’s happening on the Eastern Front or in Africa. It’s a death a little closer to home that finally grabs their interest. The Irish Guard is called in to investigate but this time it may take someone with a green thumb to catch the murderer.                           ~back of book

A delightful war time mystery. A small village in Ireland dealing with the shortages of food and fuel. They busy themselves with their gardens and occasional tea parties or tennis matches. Everyone is busy preparing for the annual flower show, the highlight of the year in Clonmeen, when Lady Madeleine Osmund dies of poisoning by Monkshood. Everyone has it in their gardens. But one garden has the most lethal variety, and they had all been there for tea the day before. Was it an accident, suicide or murder?

A lovely list of suspects from Lady Madeleine’s nephew Lord Barna, Otway her husband to Miss FitzEustace the new artist in town who was with her when she took ill. Lucy Bex is the main character and I loved her and her little family, brother Linnaeus and his son Ivor. Lucy is a no nonsense, competent woman whom everyone loves and looks up too. She is determined that Scotland Yard Inspector Lancey be left to do his job and has every confidence he will get it done.

Turning back to the bedroom, she said to Ivor, ‘Now that I’ve told you the whole story, I don’t want to talk about it any more. It isn’t pleasant to harbor such thoughts about neighbors and people who’ve been in your own home. It’s too serious a matter for guessing. We must just wait till the police come to the end of their inquiries. From what I gathered this morning, they are doing a good deal of unobtrusive investigating over there at the house. So I should think we could leave it to them, and I hope they’ll be quick about it. I’m going now. it’s time for you to get up.’

She can’t help it if everywhere she goes evidence is thrust at her, can she?

If you like gardening and plants this mystery will be a special delight for you.   Miss Pim was an avid gardener herself and plants and gardens figure into all her mysteries. She wrote 4 and I’ve read 3 of them now. They are each standalone stories so they don’t need to be read in any particular order. Of course these books are out of print and you will have to find a used copy, but I highly recommend them! A Brush With Death is still available new @ Rue Morgue

By the way in the description on the back of the book it says the deadly monkshood comes from Lucy’s garden, but that is an error, it doesn’t.

Peggy Ann


A Brush with Death by Sheila Pim

Who, how and why is someone slowly trying to poison to death Irish artist Fergus Gandon? The Irish Guard rule out accidental poisoning, since neither his wife, Nell, nor their three children show any signs of arsenic poisoning. Fergus is as irascible as he is talented, so there are any number of people who might wish him ill, including a young artist, Paddy Purtill, whose career Fergus has sidelined. Or could the villain be Lord Kilskour, on whose country estate Fergus lives and works? Some say Kilskour has taken a particular interest in Nell. Or has Nell herself grown tired of living the romantic but impoverished life of the artist’s wife? Perhaps their ex-convict servant, Mosney, harbors some mysterious grudge. And there’s also Fergus’ greatest supporter, his art dealer, to consider, but whey would a shrewd businessman like Arnold Silke want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg?
The usually unflappable Fergus is worried enough to invite himself to stay with his sister Hester Fennelly in Dublin while he recovers. He quickly installs himself as the Irish version of The Man Who Came to Dinner, much to the quiet consternation of Hester’s husband, Paul. Fergus’ niece, Barbara, who has an interest in things artistic, is overjoyed. It should be a totally safe environment for Fergus, but the poisoning continues.
Employing a quiet wit along with keen observations of Irish life, Pim works in her usual gardening lore while presenting one of the cleverest art scams in the literature in this charming 1950 mystery which makes its first appearance in the U.S.

Another great vintage mystery by Sheila Pim! Published in 1950 in the UK and finally brought to the US by Rue Morgue Press in 2002. All of her novels have a gardening background as she was a great gardener. There are 4 Irish mysteries by Ms. Pim. This is the second I’ve read and I have the others on my shelf waiting to be read! 

I love her characters, some quite quirky, and her wit. She has a way of making you feel like she’s letting you in on a great secret as she writes. It’s like she’s there telling you the story over a cup of tea. 

Now an idea which may be in the reader’s mind already had occurred some minutes earlier to Detective Officer Lemon. It felt as if his vest tickled him, and as soon as he could catch the eye of the chairman he came out with:
  ‘Suppose the chap sucked his brush?'” 

I had been shouting up until this ‘It’s in the paint!, It’s in the paint!’ Ah, but who put it there? 

Lots of great info on poisons and vintage artists paint was very interesting too. She did her research!

“Orpiment and realgar are now out of date, being deadly poisonous and found to deteriorate with age. It would not be very easy to obtain them in their old and genuine form. Some English manufacturers retain the old names but produce the same shade out of different chemical constituents. ‘King’s yellow’ in watercolors is made from cadmium and Chinese white. But there are still firms who preserve old recipes and specialize in supplying colors in their original form to painters with antiquarian taste. It may not be possible to obtain everything of which the Old Masters availed themselves. Painters working in the dawn of chemistry inclined to muck and mysteries of their own; their choice ingredients were dragon’s blood and powdered Egyptian mummy. Bisulphide and trisulphide of arsenic, however, are not beyond the resources of the twentieth century.’

Hester’s arrogant brother, Fergus’ comment upon seeing her after many years apart sparked a thought by Hester that I decided I would hold onto for myself, here in middle age!

“You have got fat!”
‘It was not fair. Hester had put on flesh as many matrons do, and her at one time seductive curves now required, as the fashion papers say, to be controlled, but fat she was not; her step was brisk and her energy unimpaired. Some people were quite surprised to learn that she had a grown-up daughter. She considered Fergus was in no case to twit her with the ravages of time.’

And for the garden aficionados there are many references to different flowers, trees and even vintage apple varieties. In fact a historical reference to Dahlia’s proves a forgery!

You won’t be disappointed with a Sheila Pim mystery! She also wrote 3 novels of Irish life all full of gardens and gardening. I would so love to read one in particular – The Sheltered Garden (1965) but can only find one copy and it is $65! Darn! Those of you in the UK might have luck finding her books at book sales and yard sales. Even your libraries.

Check here to read my review of one other of her mysteries!
I found a photo of Ms. Pim too! It was on the back book cover.

Read about her here.


Peggy Ann

Creeping Venom

Published 1946

Description from back cover:
  Was it just a coincidence that the very rich and very Protestant Miss Hampton dined on poisonous escargot just hours after she threatened to cut her cousin, Liam Hampton, out of her will if he married Catholic beauty Meriel Booley Browne? Or did her death have more to do with another old lady, long rumored to be a witch, who put a curse on her head? Or was it the old lady’s young companion, Priscilla Hoyle, who perhaps knew some household secret? Or did the cook simply mistake a deadly liniment for a condiment? Maybe it was another distant relative, Ethelwyn Linacre, who thought her son Tim should inherit Hampton Court.
  The residents of Bainsborough (a one and three Irish town-one sergeant and three policemen in the local Civic Guard barrack) all have their theories but it’s up to Tim, A Trinity college student who dabbles in many areas, from snail cultivation to science, to turn detective and figure out whodunit in this charming Irish mystery.

I absolutely adored this mystery! I have to have the other 3 Sheila Pim books now! Her depiction of Irish village life is delightful and the characters are quirky and lovable.

In chapter 16 Miss Pim writes – ‘Already he knew all the relevant facts,* though he had so far failed to assemble them.’  at the bottom of the page: * And so does the reader. I thought that was very interesting! So pay close attention from the get go and you might be able to solve it! 

Cast of characters:
Miss Rebecca Hampton is 80 and a fierce Protestant, she had her will alter to forbid her heir to marry a Catholic.

Liam Hampton, her cousin and closest relative, thought to be courting a Catholic girl!

Meriel Booley Browne, the Catholic girl in question and so lovely the rector wistfully  proclaimed it a pity that ‘providence had not seen fit to bestow such beauty on a Protestant’.

Priscilla Hoyle, a Dubliner, and Miss Hampton’s secretary-companion. Is she falling in love with Liam?

Tim Linacre, 20, a college student home on holiday, can’t make up his mind what he wants to be. Maybe a detective! A distant cousin of Miss Hampton and 2nd in line to inherit the estate.

Lizzie Shegog, town witch, self-proclaimed expert on herbs, and keeper of an errant goat.

Just to mention a few of the wonderful inhabitants of Bainsborough!
Sheila Pim wrote her first detective novel, Common or Garden Crime, to satisfy her father’s thirst for detective stories, the publication of which had been curtailed thanks to the paper shortages which affected neutral Ireland during the “Emergency”—or World War II, as it was called in most other parts of the globe. The book turned into something of a collaboration, at least when it came to research, with Sheila and her accountant father pooling their knowledge of gardening and sharing details about the habits of their Dublin neighbors…click here to finish reading about Sheila Pim at Rue Morgue 

I could not find a picture of Ms. Pim:(