Friday, February 5, 2016

The Skeleton Garden (A Potting Shed Mystery)

Author:  Marty Wingate
Genre:  Mystery

Ebook
Random House Publishing
$2.99 Amazon
March 15, 2016
Five Stars

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.

********

When Pru Parke's parents passed away, she moved to England searching for her brother.  While there, she met Christopher Pearse, a London Detective Chief Inspector, and eventually they were married.  In this fourth Potting Shed mystery,  Pru, a master gardener, has accepted a job working alongside her brother Simon at Greenoak, where she is also temporarily residing while the owners are away for a year.

Also staying with them for a couple of weeks is Christopher's nephew Orlando, who has been sent there due to an unfortunate incident regarding computer hacking.  When Pru first puts him to work in the garden, he sees it as nothing more than punishment, but soon begins adapting, and starts to enjoy his time in the country.

One day, while working in the garden, Pru and Simon discover the remains of a World War II German plane, and when it is excavated, they discover something else - human remains.  But whose?  Christopher has left London and taken a job on the local force as a Special Constable, and is working with Martin Chatters, his superior, to find out who it could be - they know it's not the pilot, but why would there be a body in with an abandoned plane?  Then later on, there is another body discovered in the garden, and Pru has to wonder - along with everyone else - what could it possibly have to do with the remains which have yet to be identified?

While working alongside her brother Simon is a dream for Pru, it is also a challenge; they argue at every turn about the best things for the garden, and Simon has his heart set on Pru agreeing to a magazine layout that would highlight Greenoak and the work they've done.  Then Jack, an old beau of Polly's - Simon's wife - shows up, and the seeds of jealousy are forming within him, even though he and Polly have been married thirty years.  It doesn't help when Jack begins to show up anywhere and everywhere, not really causing trouble, but not easing Simon's mind, either.  

Since it is necessary to the rest of what I say, I do not believe I am offering a spoiler in telling you this:  In the first pages of the book we are privvy to a conversation that takes place during the war.  One of the men is killed, and then...

...we have the background for our story.  I will tell you that I absolutely love mysteries within mysteries.  I love the idea that there is not only one, but two mysteries to solve - the old and the new, coming together; because there is no way the murderer could be the same person (or, if it were, they would be extremely old).  So why was the second person killed?  And what does it have to do with the first?

In this, Ms. Wingate does not disappoint.  She manages to weave the two stories together effortlessly, giving us glimpse of the past interspersed with the present.  When Pru begins investigating on her own, with the help of Orlando, she learns about the people she has chosen to live with, and what happened during the war; she learns about the history of the plane and why it is still on the grounds of Greenoak.  But when she begins digging deeper, it is then the second body is found...

Soon after the second body, there are a series of break-ins around town, with papers being left strewn about, even though it appears nothing is ever taken.  This sets off alarm bells in Christopher's head, and he is asked by another DI to quietly investigate and see if he can tell why the investigation seems to be stalled.

I hesitate to say any more about the book, since I do believe that in doing so would truly give away too much of the plot.  But I will say that there are enough red herrings to keep even the most dedicated mystery reader intrigued.  I have always said that it is not just knowing who the murderer is - and this book is no different than any other in that respect; even if you figure it out before Pru and Christopher do.  What is important is the "getting there."  Watching the clues and pieces of history come together is gratifying and allows us to see things that might have been, both satisfying and bittersweet.

Although this wouldn't be characterized as a humorous mystery, there is one very funny scene where Pru is attempting to make a traditional English Christmas pudding...and she can't cook.  I also like the fact that Pru is smart and knowledgeable without being smug, and her friends and family are both realistic and people you'd like to know; there isn't a nasty character among them, which is a nice change. 

In the end, the plot is well thought out, put together beautifully, and takes us on an enjoyable journey through history and the English countryside.  Highly recommended.



More on Marty Wingate's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/w/marty-wingate/

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