Cover image for Roots of murder
Roots of murder
Harrison, Janis (Janis Anne)
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
246 pages ; 22 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



The Flower Shop in River City, Missouri, is Bretta Solomon's whole life. Widowed more than a year ago when her cop husband had a heart attack, Bretta has thrown herself into her florist business and her place in this small rural Midwestern community. And her diet -- she's lost a lot of weight in the intervening year. If only she could shed her grief in the same way.

When Bretta reads in the newspaper that Isaac Miller, an Amish farmer who supplied some of her most beautiful flowers, has died under mysterious circumstances, she's shocked and saddened. But her shock turns to curiosity when Isaac's brother Evan, a friend of hers since his family bought her parents' farm in neighboring Woodgrove, calls and asks her to help him find out more about his brother's death.

What Bretta finds when she begins looking into Isaac's murder -- for that's what it was -- is a complicated web of mistrust and suspicion, both in and around this small Midwestern community.

Janis Harrison's debut is a charming cozy mystery about a real woman with a real talent for digging around.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A nicely composed debut cozy with a fine lead character. Forty-five-year-old Bretta Solomon owns the Flower Shop in River City, Missouri. She's recovering from the sudden death of her husband and focused on her business. As a former fat person, Bretta has a keen sense of food and its abuses, and her honest approach is deeply engaging. We are engaged, too, when she is horrified by the murder of one of her suppliers, an Amish farmer whose fields of flowers were coveted by several characters, some colorful and some simply unsavory. Bretta cannot help but get involved when the Amish family who now own her childhood homestead ask her to find out who caused Isaac the flower-grower's death. Harrison's friendly voice doesn't falter in its depictions of the daily habits of florists and funeral homes, police investigators and local hangouts. She handles Bretta's matter-of-fact, pervasive sorrow with a generally sure hand. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Publisher's Weekly Review

A genial balance of gardening and murder, Harrison's debut introduces River City, Mo., flower-shop owner Bretta Solomon. When Bretta is contacted by a local Amish man, Evan Miller, about his brother's unexpected death, she calls on the skills she honed with her recently deceased cop husband. Evan's brother, Isaac, was the best local flower grower, and his blooms were always in demand. Lately, Isaac had been poring over books and propagating chrysanthemums, nothing that should have resulted in his murder. With little to go on, Bretta decides to meet with those involved in the local flower trade. She discovers a greedy trucker who delivered Isaac's flowers and a peculiar broker who sold them to the shops. She is perplexed by Isaac's neighborsÄone hates the Amish community, another has a wayward goat that destroyed much of their crop. As she sleuths, Bretta meets the newly elected Amish bishop, who disapproved of Isaac's use of his fertile field to grow flowers instead of wheat. All the while, Bretta also stews over the tragic death of three teenagers who drove off a dangerous curve near the Amish property. Knotting these disparate ends together, Harrison gives readers a winning look at what promises to be an intriguing cozy series marked by quick pacing, engaging characters and a touch of romance. Agent, Lori Pope of the Faith Childs Literary Agency (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Widow Bretta Solomon, owner of a flower shop in River City, MO, shows herself to be outspoken, stubborn, and rather reckless when she investigates the death of an Amish flower grower. The victim's brother asks for her help, but cultural differences still get in the way, as does a local "power" struggle over control of the victim's prize plants. Advertised as a "cozy," this first novel delivers as promised: small-town ethos, a few strange characters, mixed-up police, and a determined sleuth. Recommended for larger collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Roots of Murder Chapter One "Death times flowers equals big bucks," murmured Lois. To emphasize her point, she fanned a bundle of greenbacks on the counter next to me. I stared at the cash but didn't touch it. The phrase "blood money" needled my conscience. Four days ago, on Monday evening, three sixteen-year-old boys drove away from the busy streets of River City for a ride in the country. They'd been killed when their car veered off a curve. Compassion for the surviving families had opened wallets, and my floral business had reaped the benefits. It was after 7:00 P.M. on Friday. Our part in the preparations for the multiple funeral services was done, but the day had been grueling. Any creative juices flowing through my veins had dried up hours ago. My shop was in a shambles, the coolers stripped bare. In the workroom, festive tails of satin ribbon spiraled from the slotted racks. Cabinet doors hung open. The floor was littered with petals, stem ends, and leaf debris. I'd waited on each family when they came in to order their floral tributes. I didn't personally know these people,but during those heart-wrenching meetings I'd been privy to melancholy memories, copious weeping, and one full-blown bout of hysteria. Not my own, though I'd come close several times. I was emotionally drained and physically exhausted, especially when I looked at the money. It was a blatant reminder of the day we'd put in, and the bereaved people in River City, Missouri. Twenty miles northwest of the interstate that links St. Louis to Springfield, River City sprawls across craggy, limestone bluffs on the south bank of the Osage River. With a population of thirty thousand, faces and names often become an impersonal blur of humanity. It takes a tragedy like the deaths of these boys to give citizens a quick reality check. Hearts had been touched, mine included. But then, I was well acquainted with the pain that follows the loss of someone I love. In a flash of frustration and anger, I grabbed the cash, crammed it into a bank bag, zipped it shut, and flung it in the direction of my office. The bag hit the wall and bounced off a shelf. Four design books and a mug of pens toppled to the floor. Lois's finely arched eyebrows zoomed up before they settled into a frown. "Bretta Solomon, one. Lois Duncan, zero," she drawled. "Tell me the rules so I can play." That mad burst of energy had sapped the last of my strength. I slumped in a chair and heaved a sigh. "Being a florist is a helluva career. To earn a living from someone dying makes me think I'm laundering tainted money." Lois pulled up a chair. In one fluid motion, she sat and crossed her long, youthful legs. Somewhere between forty and sixty, Lois doesn't give away her age by word or deed. Her manner of dress is as flamboyant as her floral designs. We'd been on our feet for twelve hours straight, yet her makeup was flawless, every dark hair in place. I didn't need a mirror to know I looked as if I'd been dragged through a rat hole backwards. Lois toyed with the gold chain that circled her neck. "I admit funeral work is our bread and butter, but what about the weddings, anniversaries, and hospital orders? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you didn't mind taking Mrs. Hanover's money when she splurged on a Hawaiian theme for her husband's eightieth birthday." "That's different ..." I began. Lois interrupted. "I don't see how. Ethel Hanover was riding high on emotion." She grinned. "What a party. No one on the guest list was under seventy. Brightly flowered muumuus on wizened bodies. Hair so sparse you couldn't pin a hibiscus blossom in it. I heard old Mrs. Hanover ask three different men if they'd like a good 'lei,' then cackle like a hen in heat as she put the garlands around their necks." "Hens don't come into heat," I corrected my citified friend before returning to the main topic. "Mrs. Hanover was fired up with excitement when she spent her money. These families and friends are moved by grief." "That's my point, Bretta. Whatever the emotion, people say it with flowers. Happy. Sad. We're here to performa service. And if I do say so myself, we do a damned fine job." "I suppose," I murmured, then asked, "Did I tell you I grew up down the road from where the boys were killed? I thought everyone knew that curve is a bitch. That you have to slow down." Bitterly, I added, "Life bites, but death sucks." Lois shrugged. "True, but you can't have one without the other." She waved her hands. "Life ... death. That's what it's all about." "But these boys haven't lived," I persisted. I should have dropped the subject and gone home. But once Lois and I parted ways, I'd be alone. She had her husband, Noah, to hash over the day's events. My husband, Carl, had died fifteen months ago. I ignored the sharp ache in my chest that always accompanied thoughts of Carl. That ache had throbbed all day until I wondered if I was flirting with a heart attack. "It's a damned shame," said Lois, "but what's really going on?" She studied me pensively. "Bretta, we've weathered every kind of tragedy known to man in this town. We've done our job, put it behind us, and moved on to the next. Something else is bothering you. What is it?" How do you explain loneliness to a woman whose house is like a bus depot? Who still has her husband and three of her five children living at home? I didn't have the energy to try. "Forget it," I said, pasting a smile on my lips. "Chalk my mood up to a lack of calories.It's been months since I tasted anything decadent." Lois slapped her knees. "Is that all it'll take to bring you out of this royal blue funk?" Before I could answer, she galloped off. I shrugged. Why not? I knew Lois kept a cache of goodies somewhere in the shop. She ate her treats when I was out or otherwise occupied. But I'd seen the Snickers wrappers in the trash. I'd smelled the peanuts on her breath. Real chocolate, not the fake kind, hadn't crossed my lips in weeks. In the past fifteen months I'd dieted away one hundred pounds of fat, flab, and dimpled flesh. From the workroom, Lois called, "I don't want to be accused of contributing to the delinquency of a dieter, but if you're serious, come and get it." Wearily, I dragged my creaky, forty-five-year-old body toward her voice. Before I could say Hershey, Pennsylvania, Lois produced a pile of illicit sweets. A sack of M&M's appeared from behind the stock of hot glue sticks. Snickers, Milky Ways, and chocolate kisses tumbled out of the canister where we kept the satin corsage leaves. The tightness in my chest eased and laughter bubbled past the knot in my throat. Encouraged, Lois pulled away the rack of satin ribbon and revealed my impending downfall. Two DoveBars in their pristine blue and silver wrappers. "You're wicked," I said, grabbing up a bar and peeling away the tinfoil. The chocolate candy was on its way to my mouth when I caught my reflection in the glass flower-cooler door. My image was distorted, but itwas a slender image. An image I'd worked damned hard to achieve. I laid the sweet treat down and put my hands at the indentation of my waist. Never a size six but not a size twenty-six either. Carl had always said there was a slender woman inside of me, and someday I'd let her out. It bothered me that I'd waited till he was dead before proving him right. I moved closer to the cooler door. Lines of fatigue etched my blue eyes. Short hair showed more gray than brown. Maybe I should color it, go for blond. Try life as a voluptuous redhead. I pressed my hands under my breasts and watched the material of my blouse swell seductively. Across the room, Lois chuckled. I dropped my boobs and they bounced into their customary place. Glancing over my shoulder, I demanded, "What's so funny?" "You're like a kid with a new toy. Trouble is, you're hoarding it." She waggled her eyebrows. "Didn't your mama teach you it's better to share?" I snorted. "Sex doesn't solve everything." I looked at the DoveBar on the table. Losing weight had been a battle. Keeping it off was proving to be a war of wills. I took a deep, soul-cleansing breath and tried to sound confident. "And neither does chocolate." Lois popped a handful of M&M's into her mouth. She closed her eyes and chewed blissfully. "Maybe not, but it sure does make life more tolerable--and a helluva lot sweeter." Carl and I had celebrated twenty-four anniversaries, but a hundred wouldn't have been enough. When I married a cop, I knew I might be a widow sooner than most. With people killing people, cops were always a target. But Carl had died of a heart attack. I stood in my house at the locked door of the master suite. I hadn't entered the room since he died. Lois knew everything about my life ... except this. No one knew that fifteen months later I still slept in the guest room, or that my happy memories of Carl were bound around my heart with chains of guilt. I pressed my fingertips to the wooden panel. The time was coming when I'd have to unlock this door and face the room and its memories. "But not tonight," I muttered. "Borderline depression. Snap out of it." Making the adjustment from being half of a loving, happy couple to a content, if occasionally lonely, woman hadn't been easy. Evenings were the worst. I'd discovered that having a verbal conversation with myself didn't make me crazy. Fact is, I'd learned several things that kept me on that narrow ledge called sanity. I plodded through the house, switched the radio to an oldies station, then stepped out on the front porch for the evening paper. The River City Daily was wedged between the spindles of the porch railing. For some unknown reason, the paperboy derived some perverse pleasure from making me work for my news. After a couple of tugs, the roll came free. I stomped into the house and snapped open the paper. The headline speared me between the eyes: AMISH MAN'S DEATH QUESTIONED "Good Lord," I murmured as I scanned the skimpy paragraph: Spencer County authorities are awaiting the results of the coroner's findings in the suspicious death of an Amish man. Thirty-four-year-old Isaac Miller, who grew flowers for the local floral trade, was found late Thursday evening at his home, two miles west of Woodgrove. I leaned weakly against the door. Tears filled my eyes as I thought of Isaac. He'd been a quiet, reserved man. I brushed a hand wearily across my eyes. What had happened? Coroner's findings? That meant autopsy. How had Isaac died? I skimmed the article again, hoping for answers. "Too vague," I muttered. The paper said "suspicious death." One word strayed into my mind, but I heard Carl's voice in my ear, "Don't jump the gun, Babe. Accidents happen on farms every day." That was true. Isaac could have fallen out of the barn loft or a horse could have kicked him. I smiled ruefully. My husband had been a damned fine deputy. I'd helped him with some of his investigations by listening, asking questions, opening up different avenues of thought. He, in turn, had trusted me enough to share this important part of his life with me. I glanced back at the paper. Suicide? I shuddered.Isaac and suicide were as incomprehensible as three teenage boys lying in their caskets. Isaac's flowers were prime quality, cut fresh from his own cultivated gardens. They were a hot item sought by all five of my competitors. I'd been smug when I'd first heard Isaac's plan to grow flowers. I figured I'd have an inside track because Evan Miller, Isaac's brother, had bought my family's farm. It hadn't worked out that way. Isaac had opted to sell directly to J. W. Moth, owner of River City Wholesale Floral Company. For an Amish man, this made sense. Instead of haggling with a bunch of greedy florists, Isaac's business contact with the outside world was through one man. I'd been disappointed, but I did get my weekly share of Isaac's product. Occasionally, some of the florists grumble that the division isn't fair--the most vocal being Allison Thorpe, who's the town's biggest agitator since the first washing machine. We'd had a blowup last Valentine's Day over a missing shipment of roses. The woman had accused me-- The shrill ring of the telephone interrupted my thoughts. I picked up the receiver and said, "Hello?" "Bretta?" came the hesitant male voice. He sounded familiar. "Yes," I replied, "This is Bretta Solomon." His voice boomed into my ear. "Evan Miller." I moved the phone two inches away. The old order Amish don't have phones in their homes, and theyrarely use them. I knew Evan disliked making calls, but I figured he wanted to tell me about Isaac. Hoping to spare him this painful task, I said, "Oh, Evan, I just read about Isaac. I'm so sorry." He offered no verbal comment on his emotions or on his brother's death. Instead, he asked, "Can you come to the farm in the morning? Early. Seven, eight o'clock." A note of caution entered his voice. "I need your ... advice." "Advice?" "Yeah. Uh ... assistance. Uh ... about ..." His tone grew strong again. "The flowers. Isaac's flowers." "I don't know what kind of assistance I can offer." "Will you come?" persisted Evan. "Of course, but--" "Have to get back to the house. See you in the morning." And click , he was gone. Slowly, I returned the receiver to its niche. I could speculate on what Evan wanted, but I still wouldn't be any wiser until tomorrow morning. As I bathed and got ready for bed, my mind was on Evan. His summons for assistance from a non-Amish might seem odd, except we had a unique friendship. If Evan had questions and no one in his Amish community had answers, he'd call on me. I turned off the light and stretched out in my bed. My thoughts jumped and jiggled like drops of water in hot grease. I punched the pillow and tried to relax. Eighteen miles from River City, the small town of Woodgrove had seen an influx of Amish families in thelast twenty years. I worked hard at picturing the quaint town, so I could relax and get some sleep, but other images intruded. The most persistent one was Cecil Bellows. Cecil lives on the gravel road that backs Evan's property. I slugged my pillow again. Thoughts of Cecil were not conducive to a peaceful sleep. He was an obstinate and prejudicial man. I flopped over on my stomach. When I sold my farm to an Amish man, Cecil had been livid. On the verge of sleep, my mind drew a parallel. The paperboy tossing the newspaper in the shrubs. Wedging it in the porch railing. Leaving it under the downspout during a rainstorm. I'd gotten that same perverse pleasure out of riling Cecil Bellows. I simply didn't like the man. My eyes popped open. "Well, I'll be damned," I sputtered. "That kid doesn't like me." I kicked the wadded covers off my legs. "What the hell isn't there to like?" Copyright © 1999 by Janis Harrison. Excerpted from Roots of Murder by Janis Harrison All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.