Source: Random House Chatterbox, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #4
Published by Alibi on March 15th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed series continues as expert gardener Pru Parke digs up a Nazi warplane—and a fresh murder.
Texas transplant Pru Parke has put down roots in England, but she never dreamed she’d live in a grand place such as Greenoak. When her former employers offer Pru and her new husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, the use of their nineteenth-century estate while they’re away for a year, she jumps at the chance. Sweetening the deal is the prospect of further bonding with her long-lost brother, Simon, who happens to be Greenoak’s head gardener. But the majestic manor has at least one skeleton in its closet—or, rather, its garden.
Working on renovations to the extensive grounds, siblings Pru and Simon squabble about everything from boxwood to bay hedges. But when the removal of a half-dead tree turns up the wreckage of a World War II–era German fighter plane and a pile of bones, the arguments stop. That is, until a rival from Simon’s past pays a surprise visit and creates even more upheaval. It’s suddenly clear someone is unhappy their secrets have been unearthed. Still, Pru’s not about to sit back and let Simon take the fall for the dirty deed without a fight.
The Potting Shed series has been fun from its beginning in The Garden Plot to its latest outing in The Skeleton Garden. And if you enjoy cozy mysteries with a little bit of a twist, or if you are a fan of the Rosemary & Thyme TV series, The Potting Shed is a terrific place to dig up a little gardening and a little murder.
In this book, series’ protagonists have turned a new leaf on their lives. Gardener Pru Parke, transplanted to England from Texas, has come to Greenoak to work with her long-lost brother Simon on the estate’s extensive gardens. Pru’s new husband, Christopher Pearse, has taken a step back from his very stressful job as a Detective Chief Inspector for the London Police and has become a hopefully much less stressed Special Constable near Greenoak.
Pru and Christopher are also house-sitting for friends, so they think they have a year to de-stress, get comfortable and put down roots in the community. Instead, Pru and her brother Simon are constantly at loggerheads, and, as seems to be unfortunately usual, Pru digs up a dead body.
In this case, it’s literal. When she and Simon investigate why one dying tree is not thriving, they discover that the poor thing’s shallow roots are right over, not just a body, but also a crashed World War II German plane. It only takes a little bit of forensics, and some historical archives, to discover that whoever the deceased was, he wasn’t the pilot. There was plenty of newspaper coverage of the pilot’s capture a mile or two from the plane way back when.
What’s difficult is that no one seems to be able to identify the body. But when Pru starts digging into missing persons cases from the war years, she stirs up a whole lot memories, including some that would have been better off remaining buried.
Someone wants that body, or at least its identity, to remain buried, and is willing to go to any lengths to keep it that way. And whoever it is seems to be way too active to be the original perpetrator. As Pru keeps digging, as she can never resist, she discovers that just because a secret is 70+ years old, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be worth killing for.
Escape Rating B+: As with all of The Potting Shed mysteries, this book really hit the spot. And also like the earlier books, I think it would be possible for a reader who was interested in this series to just start here. Pru and Christopher move around so much, and change their circumstances so often, that the things that do carry over from book to book are easily explained within the story.
One of those things is the strained history between Pru and her brother Simon. When Pru first comes to England in The Garden Plot, she has no idea that she has a brother in England. And Simon was told that his parents were dead. When they discover each other, it is a revelation for both of them. Now that Pru is in England for good, she has taken the opportunity presented to work with Simon, so that they can get to know each other.
The secondary plot in The Skeleton Garden is all about Simon and Pru navigating the skeletons in their own closet. They both have a whole wagonload of unresolved resentments at their parents. Simon is angry that Pru got to have them, Pru is angry that they lied about Simon, and Simon is angry that the aunt who raised him also lied to him. And as Simon’s wife puts it so well, since Simon and Pru did not get the chance to negotiate all their sibling rivalry and sibling in-fighting as children, they are going through all those stages now, and all at once.
But their issues with each other also link back to the mystery that they get caught in the middle of. It all goes back to the War. The reasons why Simon’s parents left him behind in England have direct parallels in the case they unravel.
The circumstances of the long-ago murder will be familiar to anyone who watched Foyle’s War. It’s all about the things that went wrong, sometimes criminally wrong, on the homefront while the war was going on. And that includes the problems of rationing and the black market. Also, there’s a parallel between Simon’s story and that of the young woman left behind and pregnant by the young soldier that old corpse used to be.
One of the lovely things in this particular story was the way that the past impacts upon the present, both because the war is still much closer to people’s memories in England than is in America, but also because everyone involved, or their descendants, are all still in the area. The past, as they say, isn’t even past.
This isn’t a flashback story, at least not after the opening scene. Instead, it’s all about the impacts. The events of the war are still affecting the lives of the people in the village today. Not just Simon and Pru and their unresolved issues regarding their parents’ actions during and after the war, but every single person and their descendants is still living with, or living out, their actions at that crucial time.
And that’s what made this story so much fun to read.
I’ve just discovered that there will be another book in this series! I am looking forward to seeing just what Pru and Christopher dig up in The Bluebonnet Betrayal this summer.