The Epitome of Skullduggery With a Generous Measure of Humor
By Rolf Margenau
Frogworks Publishing, $23.95, 302 pages
The setting is a laboratory funded by a university division and an herbicide corporation and a cast of discrete characters. The principal themes are a handful of ‘magical’ weed-resistant seeds inadvertently smuggled from Peru, the genetic engineering Bemis Corporation headed by the villainous Dick Geier, and several personal litanies.
Rolf Margenau swiftly and deftly moves from one thread to another so it’s advisable to read the book without long pauses in order to keep it all straight. The seeds are introduced in a preface divorced from the setting. While the chemical herbicide descriptions are fascinating, the illegal company founded to boost profits by Geier and two of his yes-men comes across as borderline naïve but an essential component of the story.
Personal threads focus on Wylie, the likable protagonist, with his turbulent domestic relationships and entertaining sessions on the gardening helpline. The romance between Jerome, the engineer whose Cessna piloted Bitsy on her illicit save-the Monarch butterflies mission is a little schmaltzy. However, her gardening columns opening each chapter are a joy. And again stretching credibility, lab employee Myron’s meeting with his long lost Vietnamese refugee sister, now a successful lawyer, reaches fairytale territory.
Travel plays a vital role in Master Gardener, not only the trip that brought the ‘magic’ seeds from Peru, but also a trip to the Florida Everglades, and a subsequent return to the South American jungle. All suggest firsthand experience.
The book is a good, fast-paced read which (forgive me!) could do with weeding a few of the subsidiary plots. No need to draw attention, though, to the outlandish names given to minor characters, among them Forsythia Bandage, Lavitra Gascoigne, Manfred Balducci, Fritz Gumbach, Zelda Barnickle, and Phineas Allgud.
Reviewed By Jane Manaster