Murder on the Garden Plot
A lighthearted crime novel full of vicious humour and subtle psychological analyses
‘The whole thing began when my sister and brother-in-law came over with a pan of soup.’ It’s a sober opening line for a very entertaining thriller, in which Nicolien Mizee shows that it doesn’t take a lot of death and destruction to build up suspense.
Writer Judith and her new husband Thijs, who has recently suffered a heart attack, rent a summer house with Judith’s sister Cora and brother-in-law Ab to escape renovation work at home.
Mizee builds up her plot in subtle ways. For example, on the phone with the landlord, Cora stresses that it’s ‘a matter of life and death.’ A little while later, she casually reports that there’s a curse on the summer house’s estate. The estate is owned by Fiep and Anne Lanssen, two childhood friends of Cora and Judith. Apparently, each new owner has tried to give the estate away around the age of fifty, starting with Chris Lanssen, who bought it first, followed by his son. Whether Lanssen’s grandson, tried to get rid of it as well remains unclear – he disappeared without a trace twenty-five years ago.
The two couples move into the summer house; the sisters cook, the men drink wine. On her first walk on the grounds, Judith discovers the garden plots at the edge of the estate. One of the ten plots is empty. A man working in the garden - with an ‘ordinary face on which a moustache, glasses and fluffy hair seemed to have been sloppily applied’ - strikes up a conversation with her and convinces her to rent the last plot for five cents.
Pretty soon, Judith finds out why the rent is so cheap. Anne and Fiep explain to her that if the garden club has fewer than ten tenants it will have to be dissolved. By signing the contract for the tenth plot, she has spoiled their plans to sell the land for several hundred thousand.
Mizee serves her story with dry, deadpan humour, sketches intriguing portraits of the estate’s eccentric residents, and describes sumptuous dishes that the sisters cook in the summer house in elaborate detail. When the first body is found, readers are taken on an Agatha Christie-style adventure to crack the case. Who did what and why?