The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree – Book 1

“Cozy fans will be delighted to learn that the prolific Albert—known for her clever puzzles, engaging characters, love of nature, and outstanding historic research—is debuting yet another exceptional series.”
–Booklist Starred Review

The country may be struggling through the Great Depression, but the good ladies of Darling, Alabama, are determined to keep their chins up and their town beautiful. Their garden club, the Darling Dahlias, has just inherited a new clubhouse and garden, complete with two beautiful cucumber trees in full bloom.

But life in Darling is not all garden parties and rosemary lemonade.

When local blond bombshell Bunny Scott is found in a suspicious car wreck, the Dahlias decide to dig into the town’s buried secrets, and club members Lizzy, Ophelia, and Verna soon find leads sprouting up faster than weeds. The town is all abuzz with news of an escaped convict from the prison farm, rumors of trouble at the bank, and tales of a ghost heard digging around the cucumber tree. If anyone can get to the root of these mysteries, it’s the Darling Dahlias.

Read Chapter 1 – The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree

What’s Where in Darling’s Cucumber Tree

Praise for The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree

“The author of the popular China Bayles mysteries brings a small Southern town to life and vividly captures an era and culture—the Depression, segregation, class differences, the role of women in the South—with authentic period details. Her book fairly sizzles with the strength of the women of Darling.”
—Library Journal Starred Review

“A nostalgic first in a new Depression-era mystery series…Albert combines great period detail with surefooted sleuthing that should satisfy fans and attract new ones.”
—Publishers Weekly

“This sweet book captures the true tone of a small town.”
—New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Albert…hits all the right notes in this series debut. The plot’s believable, the Southern color brims with authenticity, and the characters are charmingly and realistically drawn… The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree blooms with success, and here’s hoping the ladies have many more opportunities to dig into crime.”
—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Excellent timely regional Depression Era mystery that brings to life the atmosphere of a period in which people are concerned over the economy that has left no chicken in almost any pot.”
—Follow The Clue

Reading Group Guides: The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree

  1. The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree introduces the Dahlias, a garden club in Darling AL. There’s Liz (the club’s president), Ophelia (the vice president), and Verna (the treasurer)—each with her own background, interests, and conflicts. Do the characters come to life for you? How do their relationships further the plots of the book? Why do you think Susan Albert chose a garden club for her ensemble of characters in this new series?
  2. The first book in this series is set in the spring of 1930. As a reader, you probably already know that the stock market crashed in October 1929, and that the Great Depression is looming. How does your knowledge of what really happened and what lies ahead affect your reading of this book and your understanding of the characters and their situations? Why do you think Susan chose to set this series at such a bleak time? Do you think there’s any connection between “then” and “now”?
  3. Darling, Alabama, is a rural Southern town, with very little “plantation glamour” and plenty of small-town realism, with scenes set in the town diner, the courthouse, the beauty parlor, and people’s back yards. Why do you think Susan chose a Southern setting for the series? What is there about the South that might make it a more interesting setting than, say, the Midwest or the Northeast?
  4. In the book, several of the Dahlias drive over to nearby Monroeville, which is a real (nonfictional) Southern town and important contemporary tourist destination. What makes Monroeville famous? Do you think Susan’s use of this real town is just a coincidence, or is there something more interesting going on here?
  5. Darling has several “gossip centers”—places where people go or things that people use to communicate. What are these? How are they used in the book? How are they useful in developing and unraveling the mystery?
  6. Susan likes to weave her stories with several plot threads—”braided plots,” she sometimes calls these. How many plot threads do you see in this book? How are these related to the interests, personalities, and conflicts of the central characters?
  7. Historical mysteries are fun to read because of the details that relate to the period in which they are set. In this series, what are some of the 1930s’ details that you enjoyed? Did they remind you of things you’ve seen or experienced in the past? How close (or how far away) do you feel from this period in American history? Why?
  8. Susan says “In the cozies I read, I’m sometimes annoyed when the central mystery feels artificial and contrived. In my own books, I always try to motivate, develop, and resolve the mystery as realistically as possible.” Do you think she has succeeded in this book? Why or why not?
  9. There’s a map on this webpage ( that you can print out and put into your book. Do you enjoy seeing maps of the towns you visit in fiction? Do you think a map adds to your reading pleasure? Why/why not?

Feel free to copy/paste these questions for y our group. You will also find reading group guides for Unlucky Clover and Poinsettia Puzzle on those book pages.