I enjoyed The Red Book of Primrose House, Book #2 from the Potting Shed Mystery series by Mary Wingate, so much that I couldn’t wait to open her newest novel, The Skeleton Garden. There’s a link to my Book #2 review at the end of this review.
Marty Wingate takes the adage, “Write what you know,” quite seriously. She’s a Seattle-based horticulturist whose expertise in gardening shines in her Potting Shed mystery series. I was fortunate enough to live in a Seattle home with a whimsical woodlands garden designed by a couple of master gardeners, and have often wished I could have packed up that beautiful garden and taken it with me when I left Seattle. But that’s not the only reason I love Marty Wingate’s novels. I think you’ll become a fan too, whether you’re a wanna-be gardener or just love a good cozy English mystery. Let’s find out…
Caution: There are a couple of spoilers ahead in this review if you haven’t read the first two books in the series. Just a heads up. I don’t think it’s anything too critical but I felt I should warn you. These read well as stand-alone books. I will warn you, however, that you will probably want to go back and read the first two books in the series once you read this one. Thankfully, they’re available at a real bargain price – so – that’s a win-win in my “book.”
A little background: At first glance, Texas transplant Pru Parke seems an unlikely person to be restoring traditional English gardens. In truth, they are a challenge she loves tackling. She is intent on honoring their often centuries old heritage while making them thrive in today’s world. The only problem is that dead bodies keep turning up where she’s working – and that is not at all what she planned when she moved to England to find her family roots in addition to getting her hands on some literal garden roots.
Pru and Police Detective Christopher Pearse, are finally living in the same town and, in the same house. Yep, they’ve tied the knot. Although Chris is working for the local police force, he is diplomatically staying out of the kind of detective work he did in London to avoid tramping on fragile local police egos as much as possible.
While he does that, Pru is working with her newly discovered brother, Simon, at Greenoak, a local 19th century estate. The garden there is Simon’s labor of love so she’s also having to tread a fine diplomatic line to keep from tramping all over his fragile ego. It’s tough since she’s used to being the one in charge but it’s worth it to get to work with her brother and get to know him better. She’s all too aware that already he feels slighted that he was left in England with relatives while she grew up with their mother…she doesn’t need to add to that problem if she can help it. Still, they’re both stubborn and seem to disagree on every aspect of how to treat the garden, and that’s making life difficult for both of them.
“’I know what I’m doing,’ he [Simon] cut in.
She should keep quiet. ‘I didn’t say you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s just that best practices suggest the plant’s root system needs – ‘
‘Forty years I’ve been gardening here at Greenoak, and you don’t think I know what best practices are?’ His voice was loud enough to hear from the house…
‘Just because I haven’t worked here that long doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about,’ she said hotly, wishing she could just leave it alone, but not wishing it enough to do so.
‘Oh, it must be your university learning that taught you that – did you get a degree in container culture?’
‘I worked hard for my degree,’ she shouted at him, ‘and it isn’t fair of you to belittle it.’
Simon glared at her and walked off.”
One problem is that Pru is the one who’s developed a reputation for her outstanding work on historical English estate gardens, so she constantly has to remind journalists and locals alike that this is Simon’s garden and she’s just helping him out. It’s an uphill battle to balance her brother’s ego and the media’s need for a “hook” to sell articles. And then things get even more complicated.
While digging up a dying tree to determine why it failed to thrive and to replace it, Pru and Simon make a grisly discovery…a World War II German fighter plane…and a skeleton. Well hell, no wonder the tree was dying. There is only one benefit to this gross discovery – at least they stop fighting about every square inch of garden space.
“8 July 1944…
Will gave only the briefest glimpse at the house. The old man would be away to the back, sitting in the kitchen over his hot cocoa, all the windows well covered…
He stepped up to the edge of the pit, his feet crunching in the chippings under his boots, and looked down at the jagged sheets of metal sucking up at awkward angles. The plane had come down right inside the old man’s walls, and it had been the talk of the village for a fortnight.”
How did a German fighter plane end up in the middle of the English countryside, much less in the middle of the estate’s garden? Why is it buried there and why has no one uncovered it until now? Is the skeleton the pilot or someone else? Did the person die when the plane crashed, if it crashed? If not, how did they die and why?
Oddly enough, as Pru and Simon try to dig into this historical mystery, the townspeople seem intent on stopping them at every turn. Why would they do that? What secrets do the villagers not want to dig up?
Pru and Simon are typical squabbling siblings – only they’re adults. You’d think siblings would outgrow that kind of thing but maybe they’re making up for not getting to do it as kids. Luckily that tension is merely a sidebar to the story instead of its main thread. Both are strong people with strong opinions and that, along with obvious gardening design talent, has served to make them both good at what they do. The only problem is that they have very different yet valid approaches to gardening. Chris is at odds in his new job because what he excels at is detecting, so he’s itching to get his hands on the mystery in his new backyard yet he doesn’t want to ruffle local police feathers if he doesn’t have to. And the villain in this mystery – well, that’s a very interesting and poignant story that you’ll have to find out for yourself.
I liked The Skeleton Garden even more than The Red Book of Primrose House because it was more of a cozy mystery and contained less exposition. The historical elements in The Skeleton Garden work effortlessly to move the plot forward. Although the historical elements in the prior novel were very necessary to the plot, they had to be more thorough which slowed the pace down. The pace in this newest story moves much quicker. For an English cozy, it has some really dark elements while still maintaining the traditional cozy style. I believe cozy mystery fans are going to enjoy it a lot and that it will also appeal to other mystery fans as well. I’m already looking forward to seeing what kind of trouble Pru, Chris, and Simon get into in the next Potting Shed mystery!
Want to know more about this author? This interview with GardenTV was done a couple of years ago when Marty Wingate had just finished her first Potting Shed mystery novel. It mentions that novel but also talks about her gardening books and other things she does. I found it to be very interesting and thought some of you might too.
Can’t wait to read it? The Skeleton Garden is available as an e-book from your favorite online bookseller…and it’s a real bargain right now at only $2.99! Click on the link below to download it now!
I’d love to get your comments on The Skeleton Garden, Marty Wingate or her other work, and/or this review. Click here to read our review of The Red Book of Primrose House from the Potting Shed mystery series.