Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Marty Wingate

Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Marty WingateBetween a Rock and a Hard Place: A Potting Shed Mystery by Marty Wingate
Formats available: ebook
Series: Potting Shed #3
Pages: 288
Published by Alibi on August 4th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

Perfect for fans of Laura Childs, Ellery Adams, and Jenn McKinlay, Marty Wingate’s enchanting Potting Shed Mystery series heads to Scotland as Pru Parke plans her wedding . . . all while a vengeful murderer is poised to strike again.    After her romantic idyll with the debonair Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse culminates in a marriage proposal, Pru Parke sets about arranging their nuptials while diving into a short-term gig at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. At hand is the authentication of a journal purportedly penned by eighteenth-century botanist and explorer Archibald Menzies. Compared to the chaos of wedding planning, studying the journal is an agreeable task . . . that is, until a search for a missing cat leads to the discovery of a dead body: One of Pru’s colleagues has been conked on the head with a rock and dumped from a bridge into the Water of Leith.   Pru can’t help wondering if the murder has something to do with the Menzies diary. Is the killer covering up a forgery? Among the police’s many suspects are a fallen aristocrat turned furniture maker, Pru’s overly solicitous assistant, even Pru herself. Now, in the midst of sheer torture by the likes of flamboyant wedding dress designers and eccentric church organists, Pru must also uncover the work of a sly murderer—unless this bride wants to walk down the aisle in handcuffs.

My Review:

I love this cozy mystery series, and it was absolutely perfect for the mood I was in as I read it.

One of the reasons I love it so much is that the heroine, Pru Parke, is easy for me to identify with. While in earlier times Pru might have been coyly referred to as a “woman of a certain age”, the fact is that Pru is in her 50s and starting her life over in England. That she has found a realistic and romantic love on her journey just makes it that much more awesome.

Pru is a kind of itinerant gardener. For those who have watched the BBC series Rosemary and Thyme, Pru reminds me a lot of Laura Thyme. She is a trained gardener and garden manager, with a degree in horticulture and some experience teaching as well as working in respected botanical gardens back home. In Pru’s case, back home is Texas.

garden plot by marty wingateAlso like Laura Thyme, wherever Pru comes to take care of a garden, she always digs up a dead body or two. Sometimes merely figuratively, but sometimes literally. She met her fiance, DCI Christopher Pearse, when her first case in The Garden Plot (reviewed here) became tied up with a murder investigation.

After Pru’s successful recreation of a famous garden in The Red Book of Primrose House (reviewed here), Pru and Christopher took off on a six-month sabbatical. At the opening of Between a Rock and a Hard Place, she is ready to go back to work and offers are pouring in.

Pru takes a three-month contract at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Her job is to verify (or debunk) the authenticity of a journal that was purportedly written by one of the great 18th century explorer-botanists, Archibald Menzies. While she’s in Edinburgh, she is also supposed to arrange her upcoming wedding to Christopher.

Nothing ever comes easy. While the wedding arrangements are mostly fraught with humorous, if nerve-wracking, disasters, the job is nothing like Pru expected it would be.

There is something underhanded about her appointment to the position, and the RBGE administrator pulls a vanishing act whenever Pru attempts to buttonhole him to discuss it. The staff member at the Garden who is supposed to work with Pru clearly resents her very presence, and with good reason. It is obvious that Iain Blackwell is more than qualified to handle the research himself, and there is no apparent reason why Pru was brought in. Iain’s continued disparagement of her credentials and his constant sniping about “buying the job” at first may seem like plain sexism, but are soon revealed to be very specific to the arrangement that brought Pru to Edinburgh – an arrangement that Pru had no part of, but that Iain believes she connived at.

When Iain is murdered, Pru is the obvious suspect. Everyone heard them arguing – frequently and often. But when the police start focusing on Pru as their sole suspect, Christopher drops everything at Scotland Yard and rides to the rescue.

While Pru and Christopher try to negotiate their upcoming nuptials, Pru can’t resist poking her nose into the murder of her frustrating colleague. As Pru is not the guilty party, someone else must be. It’s up to Pru to figure out who and why before the murderer finishes their plans to send Pru off the exact same way.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story with a lot going on, and almost all of the plot threads are fun to follow. And although this is the third book in the series, I think it could be read as a standalone. Pru moves around so much that except for Christopher, people don’t continue from one book to the next.

I like Pru and Christopher, and I enjoyed seeing this late-blooming couple negotiate both their marriage and their future together. One of the things that I love about them is that they are portrayed as being realistically hot for each other, and very willing to explore that fire. While their love scenes are of the “fade to black” type, the author makes it clear that these two 50-somethings enjoy sex with each other much and often. We don’t see enough romantic relationships between people who are both experienced, and we should. Love blooms at any age, and sex is wonderful with the right person. Pru and Christopher are clearly each other’s “right person” and it glows.

Arranging the wedding turns into a string of disasters, or adventures if the definition of adventure is that one about something either long ago or far away happening to someone else. Pru’s discomfort at going through the first bridal travails that normally happen for a woman at half her age is honest. The craziness along the way is all Pru.

Then there are the three mysteries. There’s the minor mystery about how Pru got the job in the first place. There’s the second minor mystery about whether or not the journal she is authenticating is the real deal. And there’s the major and deadly mystery surrounding Iain Blackwell’s death.

I found the first little mystery, the one about Pru’s appointment, to be frustrating and in the end, annoying. The dodgy administrator made things seem much more serious than they were, and the reason for that dodginess, and the whole way that Pru got the appointment, went too far down unrealistic lane for this reader.

The mystery about authenticating the manuscript, including why it had been suppressed in the first place, turned into a fascinating little piece of history. It’s too bad that this part of the story is entirely fictional. The way this worked out, I’d have loved it if it were true.

The big mystery, Iain’s death, was heartbreaking on a number of levels. Not just that a not-nice but certainly not-evil man was dead for not much reason, but the number of lives that were broken in both the cause of his death and the aftermath. I had started to zero in on the murderer before the reveal, but the why of it surprised and saddened me.

4 thoughts on “Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Marty Wingate

  1. I also enjoyed this series, which I started because of your review of the first book. It got me out of a serious reading slump. I guess Wingate has wrapped the series up with the 4th book, which leaves me with mixed feelings. Part of me is sad to say goodbye to it, but part is glad that she left it at a good point without trying to drag it on.

    One note, tho–Pru started her life over in England, not America. 🙂

    1. Ouch, you’re right. And it’s corrected. Is Skeleton in the Garden the final book? That will be sad. On the other hand, the way Pru turns up dead bodies should put a damper on her continued employment. Shouldn’t it?

      1. Oops, I think I may have gotten confused (shocker) and jumped the gun. For some reason, I had it in mind that Wingate had put this series to bed and was focusing on the Birds of a Feather series instead, but now I don’t know what made me think that. So, there may yet be more books after next March’s Skeleton. If that’s so, it will be interesting to see where she takes Pru and Christopher next, both personally and professionally. And as for Pru turning into Jessica Fletcher/the Angel of Death, well, I guess all cozy series require that suspension of belief to account for the high mortality rate in otherwise innocuous tea rooms, quilt shops, bookstores, gardens, etc.

        Thanks again for introducing me to this author/series.

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