Rachel O'Conner is the proud owner of the fledgling Rain Country Landscaping business in Blossom, Oregon. Her first big client in Henry Bessinger, the elderly owner of a hotel that has been run by his family for several generations. It was once a retreat for wealthy Portland residents, but of late has fallen on hard times. Henry hopes to restore the hotel to its former glory and has hired Rachel to do the landscaping.
Since Henry is Rachel's first big client, she wants to do the project exactly right, but Henry keeps changing his mind. Everyone who knows him agrees that Henry is somewhat eccentric and single-minded, but his violent mood swings and forgetfulness are recent occurrences . Rachel is concerned that he is not well. Additionally, she is worried that Henry may not have the capital to finance his grandiose schemes, and she can ill afford to tie up her time and ruin her credit at the local nurseries. Happily, she learns that Henry's nephew Alex, a Los Angeles architect, who probably does have funds, is Henry's partner in this undertaking.
When Alex arrives to consult with Henry about the renovation of the hotel it quickly becomes clear their plans for this project are radically different. They end their conversation shouting at each other and Alex stalks off. Shortly thereafter, Henry's body is found at the bottom of a cliff. The old man had been unsteady on his feet of late, but there are several people who stood to profit from Henry's demise. His nephew will probably inherit the property unless a will is found. Several developers are interested in the site for condominiums, and even an employee of Rachel's seems to be better off with Henry out of the picture.
Rachel feels compelled to investigate . As she begins to poke around, she becomes the victim of several accidents, making her more determined to get to the heart of the matter before she herself becomes a victim.
Devil's Trumpet is the first mystery novel by Mary Freeman. It is an admirable first effort. The characters seem to be real people. They make mistakes, are subject to temptations, and are by no means omniscient. The heroine gets involved in several romantic entanglements, totally misunderstanding what is actually going on. Her attempts at crime solving are less than perfect, unwittingly putting herself in dangerous situations. All this seems pretty believable for a twenty-something, adventurous young lady. However, Rachel does manage to learn a tremendous amount by observing facial expressions and body language, which weakens the story a bit.
The plot itself is rather mundane and the identity of the guilty party is fairly obvious, although the motive is not quite as easily determined. Several subplots not directly related to the mystery are developed which are entertaining in their own right. They didn't detract from the story line and will probably become important in subsequent entries in the series. It was a bit difficult to keep some of the family relationships of the minor characters straight. Rachel's mother has a whirlwind romance with a retired physician and his family is quite complicated. I found myself rereading parts to figure out who was related to whom.
Mystery stories are more entertaining for me when I can learn some factual information as well. Devil's Trumpet does a credible job of imparting tidbits of information about landscaping and the geography of Oregon. It was interesting to learn what plants grew well in Oregon because of their affinity for the soil and climatic conditions which exist there. This information did not play a big part in the story so the non-botanists will probably not be bored. Ms. Freeman also points out some of the difficulties of running a small business, which would probably make me think twice about undertaking such an enterprise.