In Marty Wingate’s charming new Potting Shed Mystery, Texas transplant Pru Parke’s restoration of a historic landscape in England is uprooted by an ax murderer.
Pru Parke has her dream job: head gardener at an eighteenth-century manor house in Sussex. The landscape for Primrose House was laid out in 1806 by renowned designer Humphry Repton in one of his meticulously illustrated Red Books, and the new owners want Pru to restore the estate to its former glory—quickly, as they’re planning to showcase it in less than a year at a summer party.
But life gets in the way of the best laid plans: When not being happily distracted by the romantic attentions of the handsome Inspector Christopher Pearse, Pru is digging into the mystery of her own British roots. Still, she manages to make considerable progress on the vast grounds—until vandals wreak havoc on each of her projects. Then, to her horror, one of her workers is found murdered among the yews. The police have a suspect, but Pru is certain they’re wrong. Once again, Pru finds herself entangled in a thicket of evil intentions—and her, without a hatchet.
Publisher: Alibi (November 4, 2014)
Sold by: Random House LLC
Earlier this year I reviewed The Garden Plot, the first book in this cozy mystery series (you can find my review and a fabulous recipe for Orecchiette with Goat Cheese and Artichokes here), so I was happy to dig into (pun intended) the second book. The Red Book of Primrose House takes up shortly after the first with Pru settling into her new job restoring the gardens at Primrose House. It's exhausting work and she's an hour away from Inspector Christopher Pierce, her love interest from the first book. Pru has to deal with her employer's copious notes--usually suggesting some outlandish requests and ideas for the garden. There's also her crew, a local newspaper garden blogger featuring the work on the Primrose House garden, and the gardener who was supposed to get the job instead and keeps showing up. Meanwhile she is also dealing with her own family secrets. When the garden starts get vandalized and then one of her employees ends up dead, Pru takes it upon herself to try and find the killer and solve the mystery.
This is a fun series--even if you aren't a green thumb or know much about gardening. As much as I like the breezy escape of a cozy mystery, I like to learn a little something when I read. For example, I was happy to learn there really was a Humphry Repton--considered to be the last great English landscape designer of the eighteenth century, and he did write and present red books with his garden plans to his wealthy clients. Pru is a fun lead character--she's in early 50's, a good and loyal friend, and it is fun to see her navigate the relationship waters with Christopher. It is best to start with the first book in this series but not completely essential as the author provides enough detail to bring the reader up to speed. (You can enter for a chance to win a copy of the first book and a gift card at the end of the post.) Author Wingate also does a good job of balancing the gardening detail out well--enough to be interesting without being too technical. A great second offering--I look forward to more time with Pru and her gardens in future books.
Author Notes: Marty Wingate is the author of The Garden Plot and a regular contributor to Country Gardens as well as other magazines. She also leads gardening tours throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and North America. More Potting Shed mysteries are planned.
Although set most often in and centered around Pru's gardens, there is food inspiration in the book. Lots of tea and various cakes and pastries, Christopher brings Pru takeout all the way from Gasparetti's--her favorite Italian restaurant, a roast chicken and risotto lunch, moussaka, hot soup, restorative curry, eggs and Pru's homemade biscuits with damson plum jam, even a supper of fish fingers and apple slices shared with a child. I decided to take my inspiration from apples since Pru planted antique apple varieties along the walls of the Primrose House garden, intending to 'espalier' them in different patterns. (Espaliering is the pruning and tying the branches of woody plants to a frame to train them to grow a certain way. See, I do learn a bit of gardening from these books!)
I remembered a salad recipe from Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food that I have been wanting to try--where apples are pan-fried in a bit of walnut oil and used to top a salad along with cheese and walnuts. It sounded like a great autumn dish and something green and garden-like. I did make a few changes to the recipe which are noted in red below.
Pan-Fried Apple and Cheese Salad
Adapted from Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater
(For 2 as a Snack or Light Lunch or Supper)
1 large or 2 small apples (I used Honeycrisp)
1 Tbsp walnut or peanut oil
2 Tbsp broken walnuts (I used glazed/candied walnuts)
2 handfuls of salad leaves of choice (I used baby spinach)
2 oz crumbly farmhouse cheese such as cheddar (I used local Naked Cow farmhouse cheddar)
Wipe the apple(s), but do not peel. Cut in half, then into quarters. Remove apple core and cut the fruit into thick slices--about 6-8 slices per apple.
Warm the oil in a large shallow pan; when it is hot add the apples and walnuts. (Note: because I used glazed walnuts--I did not cook them with the apples.) Cook the apples for about 3-4 minutes, until they are golden, turning them once. Divide salad leaves on the 2 plates. Remove the apples from the pan with a metal spatula and scatter them among the leaves. Crumble the cheese over the hot apples--it will soften rather than melt. Squeeze the lemon juice into the pan and drizzle the resulting dressing over the salad. Eat immediately.
Notes/Results: This is my new favorite fall salad--such a great combination of flavors and textures and it is pretty to look at too. Pan-frying the apples brings out extra flavor and enhances the sweet/tart flavor. I used my favorite Honeycrisp apples and they were brilliant. I may have to fry them up on a regular basis--salad or not. ;-) I was grabbing walnuts when I saw a small package of glazed ones. They turned out to be a wonderful touch adding a little sweet and spice to the mix. The cheese gets just slightly softened by the warm apples (this was a local farmhouse cheddar) and the bites of the apple and cheddar together were wonderful. You could use any lettuce or greens--I liked the hardiness of the baby spinach. A perfect salad for holiday entertaining--elegant but goes together in a snap, I can imagine doing a version with pan-fried pears, pecans and a mild blue cheese or goat cheese. A definite keeper recipe that I will make again (and again).
Note: A review copy of "The Red Book of Primrose House" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of the Book Tour and what other reviewer thought about the book here.
Kahakai Kitchen is joining in on the Rafflecopter giveaway for TLC Book Tour of The Red Book of Primrose House. The publisher is giving away a $25 e-giftcard to the e-book retailer of the winner's choice, plus 1 copy of THE GARDEN PLOT by Marty Wingate! Enter to win below.
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