Vanish with the Rose by Barbara Michaels

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Source: Purchased rating

Fearing for the safety of her missing brother, lawyer Diana Reed will do anything to get to the truth. Taking a job as a landscape architect at the last place Brad was seen—the sprawling estate where he worked as a caretaker—she prowls the strange old house determined to unlock its secrets. But each mystery Diana uncovers is more unsettling than the last, as odd visions, scents, and sounds pervade an atmosphere of dread and barely suppressed violence. And in her zealous search for answers, she may have inadvertently opened a door to something frightening and deadly that can never be closed again.

Barbara Michaels may have written a big batch of books in a certain genre, but she kept most of them unique and didn't indulge in formulaic safety nets. In Vanish with the Rose she does again focus on her love of old houses, rose gardens and landscaping, but the story-line isn't an old fashioned ghost story. Lawyer Diana Reed is doing undercover sleuthing and pretending to be a rose expert while she tries to figure out where her older brother ended up. Was he dead? Missing? That's the real reason she's out there digging through the dirt of a particular family.

Diana may have personal family issues, but the family dynamics of the house she visits brings a lot of charm and humor to the story. The mother is especially cute in a quirky way. Throwing in the dedicated housekeeper as a companion and fellow detective was a fun as well, including her weird situation with her ex (potential red herring alert). There are two men who may contend for the heroine's heart but as usual Michaels doesn't put much romance into the plot pot, and it could have been either/or by the end of the story with the same result.

The mystery isn't bad; it hints at paranormal and slowly solves a crime she's not sure exists. I wasn't terribly surprised at the ending but it was a good, somber one that fit the dreary mood of what they find out. While the mystery is only so-so with its strength, it does come across heavy in comparison to some of her other mysteries. A lot of those books dealt with horrors of the past, but this one makes sure they stay present, front and center.

It's not my favorite of hers, but it's a good one, made even better by her usual gorgeous writing style and knack for sarcastic dialogue as the characters bounce theories and debates off each others egos. Recommended for Michaels fans or those who like slow-paced mysteries...with rose gardens.

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