Brought to you by OBS reviewer Jeanie
In Marty Wingate’s charming new Potting Shed Mystery, Texas transplant Pru Parke’s restoration of a historic landscape in England is uprooted by an ax murderer.
Pru Parke has her dream job: head gardener at an eighteenth-century manor house in Sussex. The landscape for Primrose House was laid out in 1806 by renowned designer Humphry Repton in one of his meticulously illustrated Red Books, and the new owners want Pru to restore the estate to its former glory—quickly, as they’re planning to showcase it in less than a year at a summer party.
But life gets in the way of the best laid plans: When not being happily distracted by the romantic attentions of the handsome Inspector Christopher Pearse, Pru is digging into the mystery of her own British roots. Still, she manages to make considerable progress on the vast grounds—until vandals wreak havoc on each of her projects. Then, to her horror, one of her workers is found murdered among the yews. The police have a suspect, but Pru is certain they’re wrong. Once again, Pru finds herself entangled in a thicket of evil intentions—and her, without a hatchet.
The Red Book of Primrose House is a thoroughly enjoyable novel by Marty Wingate, the second in her series entitled Potting Shed Mysteries. I did read the first one,,The Garden Plot, and feel that one can read this without reading the first one. You won’t want to miss, however, the exciting mystery and interesting characters while learning more about the richness of British history.
Pru (short for Prunella) Parke found the position of her dreams as head gardener at the historic Primrose House property about an hour outside of London. She has several months to restore the gardens as close to the original plans as possible per the Red Book as prepared by the historic landscape architect, Humphry Repton. It was fascinating to learn that Repton really was a landscape designer in 18th century England, and his detailed drawings and notes for each garden were prepared and given to the owner of the respective property in his Red Books. Pru and the current residents of Primrose House would add personal, contemporary touches to the gardens that would not detract from the original intent.
Pru was born and raised in Texas. Her mother was from England and relocated to America after meeting her future husband, Pru’s father. Pru was unaware of any family on her mother’s side of the family, but she hoped to find if there was anybody who might remember her mother’s family. Her search during her precious few free hours bring a surprise that is one of the very last things she could have anticipated!
Her life affords little time for romance, yet romance blooms in the form of Inspector Christopher Pearse, met in the course of a previous investigation. His occasional presence as they find occasional weekends for him to visit becomes a lifeline – literally.
As she hired and worked with assistants and local vendors, challenges occurred that ranged from vandalism to the gardens and landscape materials to the current residents’ sudden change of ideas to incorporate into the design. The vandalism suddenly changes course when a vicious murder occurs in the garden. Frustrated with the local investigators, Pru keeps eyes and ears open, especially when someone is arrested in whose innocence she believes. And as she continues to work on completing the garden on time and help free the wrong suspect, she learns, too late, about another red book – this one deadly.
This well-written, extremely well-plotted mystery is a fascinating novel. I particularly enjoyed learning that elements of the story have historic roots (no pun intended) and how landscape architects could pass on “as-builts” long before the days of computers, design software, and plotters. The characters are three-dimensional, several of whom seem to have hidden motives as Pru attempts to resolve the vandalism, then the murder. I did not anticipate the actual murderer or the one responsible for the vandalism, having considered, then disposed of, those solutions. If I could have done anything differently, I might have have the murder occur earlier with less vandalism to built the suspense a bit more quickly. It might have been enjoyable to see a sketch, or several sketches, that laid out the overall garden plan to be able to picture, for example, where the terrace is, where the walls are, where the focal point that the current residents continued to toss out ideas for are since these are part of everyday activity. Overall, I absolutely enjoyed the novel; it satisfies the enjoyment of a cozy mystery as well as an interest in elements of history and more than a hint of romance.
I highly recommend this novel to adults of any age who enjoyed The Garden Plot, those who appreciate British-style mysteries, unexpected plot twists, and engaging characters.