eARC, 258 pg.
Read: February 26-27, 2020
Derry frowned. ‘Why is everything so complicated?’
Bruce thought about that. He shrugged. ‘‘ Cos we’re not dead?’
This is a mystery novel that’s hard to talk about—because for the longest time, it’s not a mystery novel at all it’s a novel about a couple of under-employed actors, their rising TV star friend, and an insecure pop star. I want to stress that this isn’t a complaint, it’s a description. By the point that it becomes a mystery novel*, you’re already invested in all the characters and the situations so everything becomes heightened.
* Sure, we all knew it was going to become a mystery novel because that’s what the Madam Tulip books are. But there were at least three ways it could’ve become one before the murder is discovered.
For those new to this series, Derry O’Donnell is a young Irish-American actress in Dublin. Her best friend, Bella, has got a new and regular gig on TV and her career seems to be going somewhere. Meanwhile, Derry and her pal Bruce are still looking for their big break. And Madam Tulip? Well…
Madam Tulip was her fortune-teller alter ego whom Derry had created as a means of making some cash on the side. A woman of indeterminate age and exotic dress, skilled in Tarot and card reading, Madam Tulip was the perfect act for celebrity events. She wasn’t even an imposter or any kind of fraud. Derry was, after all the daughter of a seventh son of a seventh son. But too often, Madam Tulip had led Derry into situations she would rather have avoided and the company of people best left to their own devious devices.
That last sentence is a very understated way of describing the series. Like Jessica Fletcher, dead bodies have a tendency to turn up when Madam Tulip is nearby. This time, thanks to some of Bella’s machinations (as well as a favor from an old friend), Derry is going to be working at the birthday party of a pop star. Before the weekend is over, Derry finds herself as a confidante to the star and (separately) another member of the band. Their manager is trying to get Derry to be his informant, if he can’t get her to influence (via Madam Tulip) the singer.
Derry’s torn between wanting to help everyone but the manager (but she, Bella and Bruce need the manager for something they’re trying) and wanting to leave them all to their own devices. because they’re all a bit too much. But she really can’t get away from it all—especially when a murder is discovered.
The mystery aside, the most intriguing part of this novel to me is the way that Derry thinks of Tulip—and how it changes from the beginning of the book to the end. I don’t think I can discuss it without spoiling something, so I’ll just say that I didn’t see it coming, and really like the way that Ahern dealt with it.
There’s a sweet little romantic story that gets just the right amount of attention and space. And I now realize that I don’t have much else to say about it—I liked this guy for Derry.
Since Day One, I’ve thought that Derry’s father, Jacko, could be the stand-out character of the series with the capability of stealing every scene he’s in. It’d be really easy to overuse him. Ahern hasn’t done that the way that I can imagine it’d be easy to do so far. In fact, I’d argue that he underused Jacko in this volume. He’s decided it’s time to publish his memoirs—which will include “a tell-all exposé” of the art world—an idea that terrifies Derry’s mother (and makes for fun reading). He’s even hired a ghostwriter and expects to publish soon. I liked his storyline, but thought it ended a bit abruptly. But that’s really just me being disappointed that we didn’t get more of Jacko—because it was executed just right.
Derry’s pal Bruce, struggling actor, former SEAL, jack-of-all-trades (it seems) is (again) a real highlight of the book. He continues to be Ranger to Derry’s Stephanie Plum—just without the money, the team or the flirtation (and the post-flirtation stuff). I really enjoy him as a character—not just when he’s pulling Derry’s bacon out of the fire, but for the nice, quiet moments of friendship and support. If Ahern decides to give Tulip a break and focus on Bruce for a book or two, I’d be in the front of the line for that.
This is the best one yet in this series—yeah, I said that in my post about #3, Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance, too—it was true then and it’s true now. There’s more depth to the characters, more subtlety to the story—and even some of the story beats that should be expected by now (because Ahern’s used them in every book) took me by surprise. It’s just a pleasure to read one of these books—Madam Tulip and the Serpent’s Tree was a little oasis of enjoyment in the midst of a stressful week for me, and I relished retreating to it.
I’d been eagerly checking Ahern’s website off and on for news about this release before he emailed me about it. I like this world, I look forward to spending time with these characters, and the Serpent’s Tree not only solidified these feelings it intensified them. These are fun mysteries, and the little touch of the supernatural (which takes on different nuances in each book) helps keep them fresh. Would this work as a jumping-on point? Yup. Any of them would—take the plunge, you’ll be glad you did.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, which is what you just read. The opinions expressed are my own.