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Tory Benning Mysteries

Welcome to the California coastal community of Santa Sofia, where landscape architect Tory Benning knows the lay of the land but has to dig through the clues to solve perplexing murders.


She’ll follow a harrowing path of twists and turns in Murder in the Secret Maze, wade through the dizzying aisles of firs and false clues in Murder in the Christmas Tree Lot, and comb through a patchwork of plots in Murder in the Community Garden.


Along with her feisty attorney friend, a heartthrob PI, and a local police detective—not to mention her loyal security detail, a Pomeranian and a black cat—landscape architect Tory Benning brings a whole new meaning to plants and plots in her quest to nab some of California’s most cunning criminals . . .

First in a new cozy mystery series featuring California landscape architect Tory Benning!

Landscape architect Tory Benning returns in a holiday mystery tied up

in a bow!

Budding sleuth Tory Benning is back to solve another gardening murder mystery!

5.0 out of 5 stars California, Landscaping, and Murder!

     "This is an excellent cozy mystery. Our heroine is in charge of a family-owned landscape and design firm in a fictitious southern California coastal town. The story includes everything one associates with southern California including wildfires and water-conserving landscape design. The storyline is exceptionally cool. Unlike many cozy mysteries, this one does not get obnoxiously detailed about food, wine, pastry, clothing, exercise or pets – but they are all in there. The final reveal was unexpected and actually fit with all of the clues. I will enjoy reading more of this author's work, especially the rest of this series." - GranJan

5.0 out of 5 stars Grabs you from the beginning.

"I read this in under 24 hours. It grabs you from the moment you start reading right up until the end. The twists and turns and surprises are endless. A really fun story from a new-to-me author. Fantastic read!" - VABeachgirl

5.0 out of 5 stars Can Tory connect all these murders that are happening in her family?

     "Murder in the Secret Maze by Judith Gonda is a story filled with so much mystery that makes it seem like Tory's life is a soap opera coming to life.
     Can Tory connect all these murders that are happening in her family?
Tory Benning
     Tory Benning is the new president of her family's landscaping business, Benning Brothers. We start with her wedding then the ultimate mystery of what could have happened to Milo. Well, that leads our girl to become a sleuth trying to figure out what happened to her husband, and then it just spiraled. Into something that I don't even think that Tory thought it would. What I like about Tory is that she staid faithful, knowing that Milo couldn't be this evil person that everyone is making him out to be. Another thing that I like about her is Tory's conversations with the police.
The Mystery
     The mystery in this book starts with what happened to her husband, Milo, on their wedding day. We also find out about her dad being killed when she was dating Milo, and that leads the investigation to a new turn for the sleuth. Tory uncovers a lot about what her family has covered up. I had a hard time figuring this one out since I fell for one of the red herrings in here. The one thing I feel sad for Tory is dealing with that cop who just won't let go of what happened back in middle school between the two of them.
Five Stars
     Murder in the Secret Maze by Judith Gonda is a big twisty maze of figuring out who could have had the most motive for killing some of the people that Tory knows. It was an entertaining book, and I can't wait to find out what Tory will get caught up in next. I am giving this book five stars and recommending it to all the cozy mystery readers." - Baroness Book Trove

5.0 out of 5 stars I'll never quite look at a Christmas tree lot quite the same

     "I saw a bit of myself in main character Tory Benning. She's smart and sees things that others might miss but, like me, she also tends to overthink things, often in the most frightening way. This made her all the more human. As a result, she spends much of the book tightly wound, seeing murderers in even the most innocent around her. Despite this she keeps going, fulfilling a multitude of responsibilities that would make a less distracted person exhausted. I admire her ability to talk herself off the edge, however, and not just protect and show loyalty to friends as she tries to solve the horrible murder, but keep pushing forward, even when terrified.
     Tory's background trauma involving murder is horrific but even though I haven't yet read the prior book of this series (a fact I will be remedying soon) the book worked nicely as a stand-alone. The pace of the story moves forward quickly and the relationships between the characters are smoothly established for those like me who are just discovering this series. The parallel stories are intriguing in themselves and author Judith Gonda shows mad writing skills in pulling them all together at the end, something I hadn't necessarily expected. Toss in that despite the horrific death of her husband that Tory seems to be moving forward, not living inside her protective shell, and her budding relationship with Jake the PI shows promise. And, oh, saved the best for last. There's a dog, an adorable, feisty Pomeranian that, despite its size, is one of Tory's fiercest protectors.
     I don't think I'll ever quite look at a Christmas tree lot quite the same after this. Talk about a Christmas buzz kill, pun intended. Excellent book that I couldn't put down." - June Price

5.0 out of 5 stars The 2nd novel in a series and a wonderful mystery. Highly recommend.

     "This is the second book in this solid series; and this series holds great promise for many more stories to come. I enjoyed following Tory, Ashley, Jake and Adrian as they each did their own investigating of the mysterious murder. Each had a legitimate reason to be involved; each one had a strong connection to an aspect of the case. This was not the usual snooping on the part of an amateur sleuth. The mystery was solid and kept me guessing, the characters were well developed and i would say they were people I would like to have as friends. I highly recommend this novel." - Bonnie J Weinman

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!

     "This is the 2nd book in the series and it's quite enjoyable. The storyline is well written and the characters are developing nicely. I'm really hoping this series will be around for a long time." - Carol Bruner

Murder in the Community Garden is the third installment in Judith Gonda's mystery series featuring landscape architect Tory Benning. Set on the California coast, Tory is almost ready to launch a community garden she designed in relation to a new development. But on launch day, a prominent figure is found dead and Tory's friend, Mac McGregor is high on the suspect list.


This third book builds up the characters well as busy Tory juggles all of her responsibilities - running Bennings and continuing with her commitments as a landscape architect. The pacing was spot on, there was always plenty going on and there was certainly never a dull moment!


Judith Gonda clearly knows how to write a story that is compelling, entertaining and fun, with characters that are not necessarily easy to love but fit with the story really well. I really enjoy Tory's personality traits - particularly her spirit and astuteness. It was intriguing to follow the progress of the story with Tory, Ashley (her supportive and caring friend), the amiable lieutenant Adrian Ramirez who is an old schoolmate, and Jake, the PI who she is seeing. All of the characters had a great part to play, whether or not they were likeable and all had plenty of drive and resolve. The plot was brilliantly executed and I was desperate to find out what was going to happen next.


The combination of description and dialogue was great and I had plenty of opportunities to play armchair detective. I was definitely surprised by the final denouement. All things considered, I loved this fascinating mystery and I highly recommend this humorous, easy-to-read cozy. I am already looking forward to reading the next book in the series. A well-deserved five stars. - Bridget E.

Murder in the Community Garden Earns 5/5 Trowels…Entertaining Fun!


There have been a few delays, courtesy of the Covid lockdowns, opening the community garden spearheaded by landscape architect Tory Benning adjacent to the new condo facility, but it’s finally here! If only Mac MacGregor and Bunny Hare, the two council members, mayoral candidates, and inaugural gardeners, would stop sniping at each other. The two accuse each other of stealing their prize cabbage entry in a veggie competition along with her leaking an editorial attack and he sending threatening notes. All Tory wants is for two to cooperate and highlighting the healthy benefits of having a community garden during the Good Morning, Santa Barbara broadcast. Instead they air the dirty laundry of sabotage which ends with a threat! Worse yet, Bunny is later found murdered and Mac is arrested!


Tory is taken aback by the idea she has a penchant for finding killers, even though the past couple of years is proof of her talent, when asked by Mac’s wife to prove his innocence. Tory is sure Mac didn’t do it. As chairman of the company that developed the condos, he’s been a target of the environmental protestors, and although he may be quick to fuss, a killer he’s not. Bunny, however, was the publisher/editor of the local newspaper full of controversial opinions, supported the Save the Environment protests to curb development, and her marriage to a Hollywood director/producer and her relationship with her children deserve close scrutiny. Tory has a lot to ponder, even though Detective Ramirez advises against her getting involved, but will the killer do anything to get away with murder?


It’s “Green” Thumbs Up! with Judith Gonda’s third book in her Tory Benning Mystery series. As my introduction to the series, there’re plenty of background references and character connections revisited making it easy to get this newbie up-to-speed. Gonda follows the traditional cozy formula I enjoy: the crime discovered early, the investigation a main element, and an arrest a shocking surprise. The suspect list starts out with the obvious family, colleagues, and competitors, but lots of surprises are thrown in with some checked off the list and checked into the morgue. Gonda’s writing style is well-rounded with descriptive language and witty banter, diverse characters, and endearing friendships and romantic interests. She doesn’t ignore the pandemic, instead uses it to provide a realistic factor in how events unfold and relationships interact. Along with discussions about landscape designs pertinent to California, Pomeranians, rescue shelters, and dog adoptions add to the backdrop. Tory is creative and clever, and suffers from the same inner queries related to confidence, relationships, and business, but despite her frustrations and fear of the future, she is portrayed with the strength to make the right decisions. Engaging. Entertaining. - Kathleen C.

Come for the plants, stay for the plots!

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