The Darling Dahlias and the Poinsettia Puzzle – Book 8

“Albert does a beautiful job of blending a whodunit with a vivid portrait of an idyllic Depression-era Southern town.”
—Publishers Weekly


It’s Christmas, 1934, and the citizens of Darling, Alabama, are unwrapping a big package of Christmas puzzles.

Mildred Kilgore and Earlynne Biddle are planning to open a bakery on the square—if they can come up with the right recipes. Charlie Dickens faces two of the biggest puzzles of his career as an investigative reporter, and one of them involves his wife. Cute little Cupcake’s talent as a singer and dancer makes her a tempting target for an unscrupulous exploiter; Lizzy must enlist the Dahlias to protect her, while she herself is confronted by a romantic puzzle. And Sheriff Norris is forced to reopen a puzzling mystery that the town thought was solved and follow a string of clues that lead to a deadly situation at the nearby prison farm.

Once again, NYT bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert takes us to a place where real people have courage, respect their neighbors, and dream of doing their best, even when they’re not sure what that is. She reminds us that Christmas is a celebration of friendship, community, and what’s right with the world. There’s nothing puzzling about that.

Bonus—Liz Lacy’s Garden Gate column on poinsettias, plus the Dahlias’ collection of traditional sweet Southern goodies for the holiday table, garnished with some cookery history.

Praise for The Darling Dahlias

“A savory read featuring strong-willed, intelligent women and a deadly conundrum… Highly recommended for historical mystery connoisseurs.”
Midwest Book Review

“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

“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

“Excellent timely regional Depression Era amateur sleuth 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

“Albert does a beautiful job of blending a whodunit with a vivid portrait of an idyllic Depression-era Southern town.”
Publishers Weekly

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

Reading Group Guides: The Darling Dahlias and the Poinsettia Puzzle (#8)

  1. 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 Albert 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?
  2. The Dahlias are a garden club. Each of the members has her own personal background, interests, and conflicts. Do the characters come to life for you? How do their relationships further the plot and subplots of the book?
  3. This book (the 8th in the series) is set in late 1934. As a reader, you probably already know that the stock market crashed in October 1929, and that the Great Depression has created serious challenges for everyone in the United States. 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”?
  4. 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?
  5. Susan likes to weave her stories with several plot threads—braided plots,” she calls them. How many plot threads do you see in this book? How are these related to the interests, personalities, and conflicts of the central characters?
  6. 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?
  7. This book picks up a plot thread that began in the previous book, #7 in the series, The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover. If you’ve read that book, how does this one continue the mystery? Do you think the two books are best read as a pair, or do they stand alone? Is there a plot thread in this book that might lead into the next? (Susan says she thinks it will be titled The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily.)
  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. I try to use as many real, historical, nonfiction elements as I can.” Did you notice any of these elements in this book? Do you think Susan has succeeded in making the story “realistic”? Why or why not?
  9. Here is a map of Darling. Do you enjoy seeing maps of the towns you visit in fiction? Do you think this adds to your reading pleasure?