Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Murder & Flowers

Gilding the Lily - Inside the Cut Flower Industry - Amy Stewart
Oscar Wilde and the Candelight Murders - Gyles Brandreth

I'm done with faux-epoch mysteries. After "Crocodile on the Sandbank" and "An Expert in Murder" and now "Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight murders" it's plain to see this genre is not my cup of tea. Gyles Brandreth's book also has some of the most outrageously exaggerated blurbs I've ever seen: (my favourite "If Oscar Wilde himself had been asked to write this book he could not have done it any better" - Now, I don't know if Alexander McCall Smith owes Brandreth money or if the guy has kidnapped his pet, but those are the only two scenarios where I could excuse this absolutely unbelievable comment - Or, maybe he means that if Wilde had been asked to write a mediocre, mistery-that-forgets-it's-a-mystery-because-it's-too-busy-meandering-so-it-can-name-drop-not-so-obscure-period-references-and-implying-Wilde-was-never-an-homosexual he couldn't quite have achieved this massively uninspired and pedestrian book? If so, hats off Mr McCall Smith, you're probably quite right).

Phew. Thank heavens Amy Stewart's book on the flower business is something altogether different. Well-paced, readable, informative and interesting.
It's always difficult to think of flowers as part of an 'Industry' (same with chocolate, I guess) but they are. A massive one, at that. And as with any business some people involved are passionate about the product, others about profit. As a global industry the flower business does its share of wrecking natural resources and exploiting third world workers. But it also offers a way out from a life of poverty and a real opportunity for 'green' credentials and certificates that want to make a difference.
While most information on "Gilding the Lily" wasn't completely new to me (I saw a French TV documentary on the flower business a couple of years ago) I still really enjoyed having the facts more thoroughly explained (not that Stewart ever goes too deep into the boring, fact&figure stuff). She travels to big flower farms in the States and in Ecuador and of course, to the Netherlands and meets many interesting characters that make their living out of roses, chrysanthemums and lilies, in farms, airports, auction houses and flower shops. Stewart has a really sympathetic and friendly narrative tone and I just kept thinking what a nice person she must be. If you're into flowers (who isn't?) or just looking for an interesting, well written, non-fiction book, I'd recommend this one.

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