||August 29, 2006
Barnes & Noble.com
Charles Valley’s legendary dowagers, the three Miss Margarets, have lost one of their own: Peggy Garrison, who married into a huge fortune but was constantly overshadowed by the legacy her husband’s first wife, the great Myrtis Garrison.
When Peggy’s will is read, the news of who will take over the Garrison fortune shakes the town to its core. To everyone’s shock, Peggy has left all of the Garrison holdings–the world-famous botanical gardens, the massive resort, and the lovely Garrison “Cottage,” where FDR once visited–to the town’s down-and-out wild child, Laurel Selene McCready.
Laurel was like a daughter to Miss Peggy, but the last thing she wants to do is step into Miss Peggy’s shoes as the wealthiest, most powerful person in town, especially since the Garrison fortune never bought Peggy any happiness. On top of that, when Laurel reluctantly explores her hew home, the storied Garrison Cottage, she discovers that mysteries abound when it comes to the great Miss Myrtis. What clues are hidden in an old suitcase containing a child’s dress and sheet music dating back to the Southern Vaudeville circuit? Who is the elderly woman outside Atlanta who has been keeping track of the Garrison estate’s every development via the Charles Valley Gazette? And how will Laurel avoid the fate of her two predecessors whose secrets have far greater implications than Laurel could ever have imagined? Culminating in an unforgettable sleight of hand, proving that behind every great fortune there is a great crime, The Ladies of Garrison Gardens is as page-turning and irresistible as its predecessor.
Something was up. From the hallway outside her bedroom she heard the words “Old Missus” murmured -- or possibly they were shouted -- her ears were sharp for a ninety year old, but even she couldn’t hear through thick pine doors the way she used to. For a moment she contemplated protesting.
Sadly, in this sequel to The Three Miss Margarets (2003), only two Margarets remain: Miss Peggy Garrison, the youngest of the three dowagers, has succumbed to pancreatic cancer. She surprised everyone (her beneficiary included) by leaving her large estate--including Garrison Garden--to Laurel Selene McReady, who attended her faithfully in her last months and came to be the daughter she never had. Pressured to give her power of attorney to Garrison lawyer Stuart Lawrence, as had Miss Peggy, Laurel wavers; she doesn't know business, but she does know what rising health insurance costs mean to rank-and-file employees. Meanwhile, an old woman elsewhere in Georgia is inordinately interested in what's happening in Charles Valley. There's romance, too, as Dr. Perry Douglass, younger brother of Laurel's good buddy Denny, is home from Harvard to practice medicine and to woo Laurel, even though she's eight years his senior and still calls him "Wiener." And there are shocking secrets revealed in a subplot about the performing Sunshine Sisters. So pour a glass of sweet tea and settle in for some top-notch entertainment. Michele Leber
In a sequel to The Three Miss Margarets (2003), Shaffer employs all the components of a Lady's Southern Novel-but creates something fresh and likable from the old tricks. Laurel Selene McCready is as shocked as the rest of small-town Charles Valley, Ga., when she learns she is sole heir to Miss Peggy's vast fortune: the whole of Garrison Gardens and Resort. Friend to the grand dame in the last years of her life (and with the other Miss Margarets, too: L'il Bit and Dr. Maggie), Laurel is now the company owner in a company town. Though with no father, a drunken mother (now dead), a poor-paying job (now lost) and a penchant for kicking it up herself, Laurel is hardly capable of running a multimillion-dollar concern, or so scheming lawyer Stuart Lawrence would have her believe. All Laurel has to do is sign a power of attorney and Stuart will make all Garrison Gardens decisions for her (top of the list is a big employee layoff and a drastic hike in health insurance premiums). Despite her daughter-like relationship with Miss Peggy, Laurel has always hated the Garrisons and the way they've strong-armed the town for generations. Now that she has the power to change things, she realizes she doesn't have the know-how. Meanwhile, she becomes intrigued with the mysterious first Mrs. Garrison and the trunk of lacy costumes she finds hidden in the house. While Laurel's moral dilemma is sincere, the story's real spice comes from the nicely imagined subplot detailing the Depression era exploits of the Sunshine Sisters. A second-rate vaudeville act, Iva Claire, her mother Lily and foundling Tassie travel the circuit, dodge trouble and aim for the big time while surviving on hush money arriving regularlyfrom Georgia. It becomes apparent that the Sunshine Sisters have everything to do with Garrison Gardens and, by the close, lies, secret identities and a murderer are revealed. Like a southern-fried meal, fatty and indulgent, and the more delicious for being so.
Shaffer gathers all the elements of engaging suspense: violent death, switched identities, blackmail and contrasting worlds of magnolia gentility and vaudeville seediness. And fans of the Three Miss Margarets will be delighted that Shaffer has returned us to the scene of the crime—Charles Valley, Ga.—and this time gives us more of her delightful, scrappy, self-doubting heroine, Laurel Selene McCready. Shaffer's strength is her feeling for Southern white women with intellect and conscience and her disinclination to be simple when the truth is complicated. But her very depth is a liability in this saga of events following the (nonviolent) death of one of the Margarets, Peggy Garrison. The pace is slowed by an overload of backstory, awkwardly spliced, and by the time the action really heats up, there are no surprises. Still, there's emotional satisfaction to be found in the becoming of Laurel, who has inherited the magnificent Garrison Gardens from Peggy and is now officially, reluctantly, a lady, even if she swears, drinks beer and drives fast.
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