Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Garden update and a review of the mystery novel The Crossing Places

Finally we have a week of beautiful weather. I tiptoe around the edges of the garden. I’m bent over, peering down, looking for signs of green, brushing away a little leaf mulch and then putting it carefully back. I have to time my garden activity perfectly. If mulch is raked away too early, it won’t protect the tender shoots from late frost, but if left too long, there could be injury to the new plants it protects. When the forsythia bloom is the general rule here. Cut back perennials, prune roses and remove mulch when the forsythia begin to flower. (Southern gardeners are probably wondering why anyone would try to garden in a place where the last spring frost date is May 15th:)

Every spring I regret not planting more very early bloomers like hellebore and crocus. It’s the high failure rate that always makes me hesitate. More often than not, early flowers are either buried under several inches of snow or ruined by hard freezes. The failure years always seem much harder than if I had nothing at all to anticipate.

I’m surprised to see how dry the upper layer of soil is. After the abundance of snow that just melted, I expected the ground to remain wet longer. Rain is predicted for this weekend and we really need it to give plants a good start.

The lamium leaves are limp but still hold that pretty green and white pattern. Lamium tries to be an evergreen, remaining leafed out all winter, protected by the snow. Strawberries too and heuchera keep their foliage. I’ve seen early daffodils blooming in other gardens but mine are way behind. Some of the distinctly striped species tulip foliage is showing--not much. I planted a dozen or more bulbs last fall and not nearly that number has emerged. Disappointing.

The pagoda dogwood leaf buds are swelling and the lilacs are just forming flower buds. Spring is always cautious in the north. In May the earth will explode, making up for time lost.

This is Hocus Pocus, the perfect friend to share a comfy chair or a pillow with while reading a good mystery.

Hocus and I recently spent a day reading The Crossing Places, a first novel by Elly Griffiths. Since my garden updates are so pitifully brief, we decided to include a book review. (Really, it was my decision, Hocus had no opinion either way. Another reason to love cats, they never argue:) My review follows.

Round the eastern coast of Norfolk, the North Sea creeps upon the land and leaves behind a desolate place known as the salt marsh; a landscape of oozing mud and deep pools hidden beneath rampant grass and reeds. Thousands of years ago, this hostile place may have held religious significance for primitive peoples. Upon it they built a wooden henge and set markers to navigate the quicksand beds.

Today, this lonely site is shunned by most, but Dr Ruth Galloway chooses to live here near where she first excavated the site of the ancient henge. Dr Galloway, archaeologist, anthropologist, and professor at Northern Norfolk University, views the salt marsh with a strange combination of fear and awe, love and loathing. Although the road to her cottage, one of only three houses on the marsh, is frequently flooded and impassible, she is determined to ignore these inconveniences and remain living with the history of the long ago people who dwelt here.

Her anthropology expertise makes her the logical person to consult when the shifting bog gives up the body of a child. Could this child be Lucy Downey, taken from her home ten years ago with never a trace or clue to her fate? The missing child has haunted Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson these long years. After the child went missing, the kidnapper taunted him with letters giving cryptic clues to Lucy’s final resting place. A brief examination by Dr Galloway results in the discovery of an Iron Age torc around the child’s neck and she determines this is not Lucy but rather an amazingly well
preserved corpse that dates to perhaps 600 BC.

Another crushing disappointment for DCI Nelson, but a career building discovery for Galloway. Still, the Inspector senses an ally in Ruth. Her ready knowledge of folklore and ancient myths may aid him in discovering clues in the letters written by the kidnapper (if they were indeed written by him and not some publicity seeker trying to gain attention from a high profile case). Thus, Ruth is drawn into the search for the long missing Lucy and her abductor.

Author Elly Griffiths creates a vivid picture of this desolate bog, a place of neither sea nor land that holds many secretes and must be coxed into revealing them. The British have a knack for writing dark and brooding atmosphere. I have a feeling that we Americans would look upon this place as a mostly sunny wetland full of wonderful birds and colorful plants, but that would not add to the sinister tone of the story. Instead, Griffiths paints us a landscape, lonely and unfriendly, dark and wet and always willing to
accept the sacrifices of man and hold them forever.

Ruth Galloway is an unusual main character. Neurotic, aging and overweight, struggling with a lot of anger and self worth issues, she isn’t at first a very likable heroine. We glimpse her thoughts and see mostly self absorption and repressed hostility. It was not Ruth’s character, but rather the romance of ancient legends that pulled me deeply into the story. DCI Nelson is a more compelling character. He is both intense and focused and the reader can’t help but sympathize with his frustration over his failure to resolve the
Lucy Downey case.

Familiar as we are here in America with police procedurals (we are bombarded by forensic shows such as CSI, NCIS and Law and Order) we may also wonder why the Norfolk police didn’t call in experts in the fields of mythology and religion to analyze the letters at the beginning of the abduction case rather than ten years later. All I can say is that most novels have these irritating flaws but if the author has already hooked her readers, minor problems can be overlooked.

For years I have been an avid reader of the novels of Beverly Connor and Kathy Reichs, both anthropologists. Elly Griffiths’ first novel The Crossing Place is different even though the theme is similar. Slower paced and featuring not the self assured professional women created by the first two authors, but rather a competent academic who is more comfortable with cats than police inspectors and who, every morning must deal with her own self image before she can face the challenges of the day.

This book lost points with me for the following reasons:
Animal cruelty. I know it’s just a book, but the cruelty was senseless.
Too much angst and self-absorption.
The ending was just too well tied up. All the puzzle pieces fell in place much too quickly and too perfectly.
I knew who the evil doer was from the beginning (but there were a few surprises in the red herrings Griffiths threw at us).


Southern Lady said...

Hi Marnie! It sounds like spring is right around the corner for you! Enjoy every day of the changes in your garden. When spring comes it will be extra special for you. Carla

Rose said...

Great review, Marnie! I will definitely check out this book, even with its flaws. I'm a big fan of Kathy Reichs, too, though I was a bit disappointed in her last novel--she seems to have fallen into the trap so many popular authors have these days of hurrying up the writing to meet a deadline, or at least that's the way it seemed to me. And I do love brooding English mysteries.

I haven't had much time lately to do more than look for signs of life in the garden. But I did do some cleaning up in a few of the flower beds last week on a beautiful day; I hope I didn't get carried away too soon. As you well know, here in Illinois the weather can play some mean tricks on us in late March and April.

tina said...

I don't like well tied up endings that seem foregone conclusions. It seems just like most movies. But the picture of the bog sounds wonderful. And the fact that there was a cat lover must have bode with Hocus Pocus. Cute name! Spring is coming your way. Our ground is also kind of dry considering. But perfect for gardening which is where I need to be.

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Hi Marnie, LOL, I have the same problem with leaf mulch--I just noticed my pulmonaria is having trouble blooming under it but then remembered it gets a second wind later in spring. This year I'm making a list (one I hope I don't lose, LOL!) of what spring bulbs I'd like. So far I have have more hellebores (which, OK, isn't a bulb), squill, and purple-white striped crocuses. :) Glad spring has finally reached you!

Tammy said...

Hi Marnie,
Thanks for the book review, I had put this book on my 'wish-list' after seeing it in your side bar. It will be interesting to see if I can enjoy it with some of the flaws you mentioned (primarily the animal cruelty). I have read all of Donald Halsted's books and like them pretty good as slow paced proceduals. He has a knack for drawing you into the rural culture.
I tried to leave a comment on another post and it never showed up, so I'm guessing I got ahead of myself and didn't push all the right buttons. Anyway, just wanted to say I am enjoying your blog and hoping to glean some inspiration off it for my poor tired yard. Introducing a new young 'in her second puppy hood' collie last summer, has taken a real toll on the yard. So with all this bare space and disrupted ground, I think it a good time to put in some new foilage. Looking for shade tolerant plants mostly.
p.s. Love Hocus Pocus, what a gorgeous cat.

Cheryl said...

Hi SE UK our weather is very unpredictable. We could have frosts up until mid May. The warm spring weather that often arrives here makes us think the weather is settled, very often it is not and we are hit by a hard frost......

Hocus Pocus is gorgeous. I love black cats. I use herbs for medicinal purposes, I have a friend that says I am a hedgewitch (in jest). A black cat may set him

Hope the forsythia blooms soon.........

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Hocus is gorgeous.... Bet Hocus didn't like that book either---if there was animal cruelty in it...

Glad you are beginning to get some warmer weather up there. Spring will POP OPEN and OUT really soon. It is beginning to do so here also... It's supposed to get into the '70's today.


joey said...

Your wealth of knowledge never ceases to amaze me, Marnie, and feel a better person having known you. This book sounds intriguing as many that are piling up, wishing to be read. So anxious with this stunning weather to 'do too much' in the garden, well knowing as you pointed out, midwest springs are fickle. Hocus Pocus is a wonderful subject ... a great shot of 'the perfect' friend. Easter blessings, dear friend!

Kathleen said...

Did it make you think you could write a book at least that well?? That's what I always ask myself especially if I'm left a bit unsatisfied. If it's a fabulous book then I am filled with self doubt at accomplishing something equal.
As far as the frost date, we share the same so I know how you feel. Some years we get lucky and can plant early but you just never know. Mother's Day weekend is when everyone says it safe here but last year, we had a freeze right after Mother's Day. I hadn't heard about the correlation between the forsythia and removing mulch. I'll have to remember since I'm always wondering (and usually pushing to remove early!)
Beautiful photo of Hocus Pocus. He has the same coloring as my Regis. :-)

BeadedTail said...

I'm just itching to get out in the garden and can't wait for the rain to stop and of course tax season to be over with. I keep looking outside at what is blooming and what needs to be planted in the bare spots. Gardening is turning out to be pretty fun thanks to learning so much from you!

Hocus Pocus is very beautiful! Love that photo! Thanks for the book review and the heads up about the animal cruelty. Don't think I'll be reading it though since I'm a sensitive wuss.

marmee said...

so glad for you the weather has finally turned. having an animal near you while reading is just great...usually for me it's a dog lying on my feet.
i keep telling myself to plant more early bloomers but having gardened in fl most of my life i can't get it in my head...maybe this year. i am loving the few hellebore's i planted last year.
happy springtime, marnie.

troutbirder said...

Ah...nothing like an intriguing book review. You did good Marnie.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Gosh, I noticed just yesterday that our lilacs are setting buds. We aren't so far apart on some things. Our hellebores are in full bloom. I would like a Hocus Pokus to cuddle with. Luna isn't very cuddly. She is a sweet girl though.

Gail said...

Marnie, Your header photo is knock your socks off beautiful! May 15 is month later then our last frost date...although, we have had frosts after that and one year a terrible freeze that we are still recovering from~ Having a sign to remove mulch sounds great...with wildflowers leaf mulch is the norm; some of the friendly exotics need help getting through them!

I need a few good books and will certainly look for her at the library...I don't like animal cruelty either; I have to close my eyes in the movies!


Chloe m said...

I am in the same boat with those crocuses. Pretty Risky! I can enjoy the mass plantings I see in other gardens much easier!

Love the cat photo you have posted. Sweet!

Balisha said...

Hi Marnie...What a great book review. I will check it out of the library soon.I'm glad that you are keeping those little green shoots covered....I think the warm weather will give way to colder temps. It's happened before.

Dawn said...

Marnie, my yard seems to be experiencing the same peeks from me, I'm just so timid about the tender bulbs getting their greens snipped, so we re-cover.
The book sounds like a good plot or place but what's with the self loathing?
PS. Hocus Pocus is beautiful and photographs well!

sweetbay said...

That's amazing that the soil there is dry just under the surface. After this winter we have been wet, wet, wet, but this next very warm week should dry us out.

I will have to try the books of Beverly Connor and Kathy Reichs -- that is, if I can stop reading the Harry Potter books over and over.

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

Nice book review... I've been reading voraciously and need to get a couple reviews out there, too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marnie~~ What a fabulous writer you are! You've certainly done a good job luring your readers to this book. I think the author owes you a debt of gratitude.

garden girl said...

Hi Marnie, I can definitely relate to the spring regret for not having planted more bulbs. I'm determined to add crocus and snowdrops to the garden for next year.

It's been so windy here this week, almost all the leaf cover in the garden has blown onto the patio. I admire your restraint in replacing your leaf mulch - if the wind hadn't blown most of ours out of the garden, I probably would be out there now hand-picking it from the plants!

Sounds like an entertaining book! My middle daughter recently got me hooked on Isabel Allende. I read one of her memoirs, and now I can't wait to dig into one her novels. She is such a gifted writer.

Anonymous said...

Daffs and Forsythia are exploding here. And I too regret not planting more crocus and hellebore.

Heavy snow came early here and lasted through February. Preventing the ground from freezing. My guess is we'll have a summer full of bugs!

Great review by the way.

Unseen India Tours said...

Fantastic Review !! This is so nice !!Unseen Rajasthan

walk2write said...

Cats don't argue? Sure they do, or at least mine does. She lets me know her displeasure by scratching the leather sofa or teasing a few more threads out of the carpet. That review is perfect, Marnie. It's just enough to get me interested in reading the book.

beckie said...

Marnie, I love those parrot tulips! I had been wondering if all your snow had melted yet. :) Your garden sounds as though it is awakening nicely. Now if that frost will just stay away this year.

I love hearing about new authors and especially love these types of mysteries. Even with it's flaws, I think it sounds like a good(maybe not great) read. I will look for it.

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Hi Marnie, Me again... I realized that I don't have your email... Mine is

YES---George mowed the front yesterday for the first time.. He'll mow the sides and back today.

Have a great week.

Kerri said...

We seem to have the same weather patterns. This morning has been wet and gray after the beautiful stretch of weather just past. It's wonderful to see all the plants emerging, isn't it? I've left the leaf mulch on so far too, although I'm itching to remove it.
Last year voles ate some of my crocus bulbs in one garden, and the tulips planted in the veggie garden to cut for church bouquets have mostly disappeared...I think perhaps to the same fate.
Perhaps you could plant some spring bulbs in pots.
I may try that book but it sounds rather somber and I hate reading about animal cruelty too.
The story sounds interesting though.
Enjoy those blooming daffs and let's hope they last a while!

Gayle said...

Wow, I'm impressed with your passion to garden now in such a cold environment. I can't wait to see the garden in May! The book review was wonderful. I could really see the environment!

oldcrow61 said...

What a gorgeous cat! The last frost date here is the 15th. of June. They say it's a challenge to be a gardener here, lol. We have a very short growing season as you can imagine.

*Ulrike* said...

I read your review, and I'll probably check the book out from the library although I have not read the last novel from my favorite author, Susan Wittig Albert. I have it, but I fall asleep!!!! I am so tired after working outside!! This one sounds interesting though. Thanks for the review!