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Posted on Wed, May 18, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Cozy Corner: 'Flowerbed of State' a rosy debut for White House Gardener Mystery series

By Lisa Allmendinger

Flowerbed of State

A White House Gardener Mystery

By Dorothy St. James

Paperback, 312 pages, $7.99

Dorothy St. James has written a glorious mystery in "Flowerbed of State." It combines intrigue and White House flower and tree lore, clever characters and witty dialogue in this first of a new series that features Cassandra “Casey” Calhoun as a perky organic gardening advocate.

When she’s not looking for ways to reduce the use of fertilizer on the White House lawn, Casey’s trying to figure out who bopped her on the head in a flower garden as she gets the grounds ready for the annual Easter egg roll.

But when a woman is found dead, stuffed in a trash can, in a nearby woods, Casey puts her many years of mystery reading to good use as she tries to solve the murder.

"I always had at least one crime novel tucked into my backpack, and I liked to imagine myself a modern-day, hipper, and much younger Miss Marple. Not that I’d ever had a chance to solve a real mystery,” Casey says.

Until now.

And, Casey spends a lot of time being questioned by the FBI, the D.C. police, the Secret Service “and everyone else with a badge in the D.C. area.”

With a huge banking conference at the White House, Casey tries to make Miss Marple proud as she searches for the killer of an accountant from the U.S. Treasury who was looking into banking practices before she was killed.

St. James weaves a wonderful tale that will delight cozy and gardening fans. She does a wonderful job of intertwining Casey’s South Carolina roots with her big-city quest to fulfill the first lady’s dream to make the White House an organic haven.

This spring, take time to smell your own roses, but drag the lawn chair outside and enjoy this page turner that keeps readers' hands clean but allows them to get down and dirty with Casey as she tends to the White House grounds.

And take heart that even with a staff of gardeners, pesky weeds show their ugly heads in the nation’s Capitol.

I can’t wait to see what’s cultivated in the next installment.

Lisa Allmendinger is a regional reporter for She writes a weekly cozy book review column that’s published each Wednesday. She can be reached at