Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #7
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Shakespeare comes to Hampshire—and Pru Parke is cast into the role of cunning detective gardener once again.
Pru’s friends and neighbors are abuzz with the news of an acting troupe putting on an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And while many are eager to catch a glimpse of famed actor Ambrose Grant, Pru can’t wait to finally see the spectacular gardens of the private estate where the play will be performed. When the estate’s gardener abruptly quits—frustrated with actors trampling his beloved plants—Pru is called upon for her gardening expertise. She throws herself into creating magical woodland forest scenes, and is quickly drawn into the excitement of putting on a play, as she watches the drama on and off the stage. But the play’s suddenly no longer the thing, when one of the actors turns up murdered.
Pru’s husband, Detective Inspector Christopher Pearse, relies on Pru’s knowledge of all the players in this particular intrigue, and Pru finds herself using rehearsals to investigate. But playing the role of private eye could prove perilous for Pru, as she closes in on a murderer who won’t let anyone—least of all the gardener—keep him from stopping the show . . . dead.
The title of this one seems like kind of a double-pun to me. First, the mystery takes place during the rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I also have the feeling that Greenoak, where amateur sleuth Pru Parke and her husband, D.I. Christopher Pearse, live, runs just second to the more famous Midsomer County in the number of murders per capita.
The Midsomer connection feels particularly apropos for this entry as one of the more famous members of the Shakespeare troupe has appeared on Midsomer Murders multiple times. (Truthfully, I suspect that every working actor in Britain has appeared on Midsomer Murders multiple times, whether on the way up, or on the way down. Just as every working New York actor has had multiple appearances in the Law & Order franchise!)
Pru Parke may have been bitten, just a bit, by the acting bug back when she was in school, but she makes her living as one of the estate gardeners at Greenoak, along with her older brother Simon.
Still, that long-ago bit of wishful thinking makes Pru an excellent candidate for set decorator/gardener/general dogsbody for the outdoor Shakespeare production that has taken over the extensive gardens of the closed-up estate next door.
That estate’s regular gardener is a bit of a recluse, and not all that fond of people in general – or actors in particular – and has taken himself off in a huff, leaving the Shakespeare company in the lurch and the estate’s owners in a bit of a pickle.
Pru steps in to fill the breach, with no idea what she’s letting herself in for. Only that one of the stars of the production is an actor that not only her late mother, but every woman of a certain age in town, had a crush on back in the day. (And if Ambrose Grant isn’t intended as an homage to Hugh Grant, I’ll eat a bouquet.)
While Pru is an expert gardener, she is in a bit over her head with the set design, at least until murder enters the scene. When it comes to figuring out whodunit, Pru has become rather expert – a fact that her police detective husband both adores and regrets.
He’s happy that they met in the middle of Pru’s first murder investigation, but always worried when she finds herself in the middle of yet another case.
Because her investigations, as helpful as they usually are, also usually put her right in the middle of the murderer’s path. A path that the murderer is usually determined to clear of all impediments – especially Pru.
Escape Rating B: The Potting Shed mystery series has been fun from Pru’s first outing in The Garden Plot. One of the things that makes this cozy mystery series so enjoyable, at least for this reader, is the character of Pru herself.
The series is Pru’s journey, and it’s been a fascinating one so far. It’s all the more lovely for it being a journey of a woman of a certain age starting her life over at midlife. Pru left behind a successful career in Texas to follow her heart, and to follow her mother’s footsteps back to England.
Along the way, Pru found a new life, fell in love and married, and discovered her long-lost brother. For those of us who are also of a certain age, it is fantastic to have a heroine who represents us, and who exemplifies all of those old cliches about being as young as you feel and that life begins at any age.
The background of this particular case was interesting. Putting on a play, or filming a movie, always makes for a scene rife with over-the-top personalities under high pressure, and provides a backdrop where a disparate group of people congregate to accomplish a goal without necessarily knowing each other.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself is a play within a play, and Midsummer Mayhem comes very close to being a play within a play within a play. There are certainly lots of players who know of each other if not actually know each other, lots of pressure, plenty of secrets, several illicit affairs and even long-lost lovers – and that’s just among the cast.
In that hothouse environment, it’s not really a surprise that someone ends up dead. Especially someone who seems to have been an complete ass – and not the kind portrayed by Bottom in the play.
It’s not a question of why the man is dead – it’s more a question of winnowing down the rather long list of suspects. I’ll admit that I guessed whodunit fairly early on. The fun in this particular case was in figuring out whether those two long-lost lovers would manage to figure out that they belonged together after all.
Just as in the play, a good time was had by all – except the murderer and his victim – and in the end, a lovely story is told, both to the audience watching the production and to the readers of Pru’s latest adventure.