The Garden Plot
Potting Shed Mystery #1
By Marty Wingate
Author’s Website: www.martywingate.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Jeanie
In an entirely appealing mystery debut, Marty Wingate introduces readers to a curious Texas ex-pat whose English gardening expertise on occasion leads her to unearth murderous goings-on.
Pru Parke always dreamed of living in England. And after the Dallas native follows an impulse and moves to London, she can’t imagine ever leaving–though she has yet to find a plum position as a head gardener. Now, as the sublet on her flat nears its end, the threat of forced departure looms. Determined to stay in her beloved adopted country, Pru takes small, private gardening jobs throughout the city.
On one such gig in Chelsea, she makes an extraordinary find. Digging in the soil of a potting shed, Pru uncovers an ancient Roman mosaic. But enthusiasm over her discovery is soon dampened when, two days later, she finds in the same spot a man’s bludgeoned corpse. As the London police swarm her worksite, ever inquisitive Pru can’t quite manage to distance herself from the investigation–much to the dismay of stern Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse. It seems that, much as he tries, even handsome DCI Pearse can’t keep Pru safe from a brutal killer who thinks she’s already dug up too much. (from Goodreads)
A Garden Plot is an absolutely delightful and exciting series introduction to The Potting Shed Mysteries. We meet Pru (Prunella) Parke, a charming, witty, and intelligent woman who moved from her Texas home to England, where her mother was born and raised.
Pru leased the flat of Archie and Pippa Clarke who were out of the country for a year. She has given herself a year – the length of her lease – to find the job she has dreamt of and studied for as a head gardener. While sending resumes in response to ads she finds intriguing, Pru has regular clients for whom she does various gardening tasks. One such job that will requires more time and design work than than others is to put in a garden and remove the existing potting shed for Harry and Vernona Wilson in Chelsea. One day while there, she discovered what appeared to be an old Roman mosaic under the floor of the potting shed. Only days later, she discovers the bludgeoned, dead body Jeremy Pendergast, associate of Harry Wilson’s, in the shed. And that is only the beginning of the challenges at this position.
It is rumored that the Clarke’s, in whose currently lives, have returned to town early and Pru may have to leave sooner than she planned. She is mugged one day when leaving the Wilson’s home. The Wilson’s have a … shall we say interesting neighbor who peers over the wall to converse with her as she works. And Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, in charge of the murder investigation, could be nearly as interesting as the history of the mosaic under the shed.
I really enjoyed the very well-written A Garden Plot! Even though I did not inherit my grandmother’s green thumb, this reader finds it interesting to be a spectator in Pru’s garden design and plant selection. Ms. Wingate’s work is rich with the history of England as regarding the gentle weaving of the previous Roman settlements into the tapestry of the overall plot. Maybe I had not heard before, or probably have long since forgotten, that England had for a time in the first century A.D. been conquered by and under the rule of Rome. London was literally built over the walls and designs from the Roman occupation. One the quotes related to to Pru’s studies was:
“layers and layers of civilization, she thought, just below all our feet”.
This gentle history lesson brought a depth of realism to the novel that made it more of a compelling read. The growing list of possible suspects also kept this reader’s attention to the final paragraphs. The culprit was a surprise, especially when finding the reason.
The characters are well-developed, three-dimensional people, many of whom one wouldn’t mind having as co-workers or at least acquaintances. Pru is very likable, a main character who is easy to be invested in. DCI Pearse wasn’t as easily likable – while intelligent and well-versed as a detective, he is distant in more ways than the mere detachment required by his job. He seemed very dry and barely interesting in the beginning, at least to this reader. The surrounding clients and folks who were “real characters” were defined both through their actions and their words.
Marty Wingate’s A Garden Plot is highly readable and interesting. I would highly recommend this mystery to adults of any age who enjoy a well-crafted cozy mystery, large-scale garden planning and care, or British and Roman history.