If your child walks in from school with a tough grass stain on his or her pants, you may wonder how to remove it. Jo Tulip, short for Josephine Tulip, answers these types of household problems in a syndicated newspaper column called "Tips from Tulip," which she took over writing from her grandmother. While Jo can easily solve these types of situational problems, her personal life is in continual crisis.
Tulip lives in Mulberry Glen, Pennsylvania, a small town where it's relatively easy to know other people's business. In the opening pages, Jo goes out for a late night jog to ease her tension from a house full of relatives and her forthcoming wedding to Bradford Bosworth. The couple had a whirlwind romance and engagement, and now the wedding is the next day. While on her run, Jo overhears an angry voice from Edna Pratt's home, which even at that late hour is well lit yet the shades are drawn.
On the morning of her wedding, Jo's best friend and neighbor, photographer Danny Watkins, feels free to call her to help the local police. Danny is taking crime scene photos where someone has died. The police can't identify a strange chemical in a bucket near the body and Danny suggests that Jo Tulip may have the answer. Jo arrives at the house where she heard the argument the night before and learns of the death of her neighbor, Edna Pratt. At first the police consider Edna's death a "strange" suicide, but Jo and Danny suspect foul play and spend the rest of the book proving that Edna Pratt has been murdered. Eventually the reader learns that Edna and her brother Simon are involved in a complex con game with some of Mulberry Glen's elderly women. Simon has convinced these women that he is hundreds of years old yet appears to look young because of a fountain of youth elixir.
In this first "Smart Chick Mystery," Mindy Clark has created a multi-dimensional and layered plot where separate strands are eventually woven into a solid story. Clark has created believable characters who are flawed and struggling with life. During the wedding, Bradford suddenly runs out of the ceremony and jilts Jo Tulip at the altar in front of her friends and relatives. Her strained relationship with her parents is another dimension that readers will easily identify with. I loved the twists and turns in the plot. Christian readers will appreciate the spiritual dimensions built into the fiber of the storytelling. A fun dog named Chewie is mixed into a great package.
At one point early on in the story, Jo is trying to convince the police about the murder:
"I'm Jo Tulip," she said aloud, confidently, as she pushed off with her Rollerblades. "I have a solution for every situation."
Just as quickly she stopped again, one house over, and looked back at Edna's place, wavering just a bit.
"Correction," she said to herself, more softly this time, "I have a solution for every situation...except my own love life and, oh yea, the dead body next door."
Clark's pacing is terrific for a mystery suspense book. As a reader you think you've figured out the murderer, but then you are pointed in a different direction. Readers will quickly turn the pages as Jo searches for the solution.
As a male reader, I'm not normally reading green and pink cover books with tulips on the cover. I understand it is designed for a younger (and female) reader, yet the book caught my attention from the very first page. Soon I forgot about the cover and concentrated on the misadventures of Jo Tulip. I recommend THE TROUBLE WITH TULIP to anyone who loves a good mystery.
Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin on July 1, 2005
The Trouble with Tulip