Pru Parke, gardener extraordinaire and casual sleuth, has been invited to re-create the garden around the esteemed Primrose House, returning it to the grandeur of the 18th century and renowned designer Humphry Repton’s meticulous plans. Everything is going so well, even her spicy relationship with Inspector Pearse, until the body of a quarrelsome servant is found dead among her butchered yews, an axe sticking out of him. The police chase down a suspect, but their evidence leaves a lot wanting and Pru just knows that they have the wrong man. In order to protect her new made friends, she starts to investigate, but is she digging her own grave? Meanwhile, she continues to look for clues to her past only to make a startling discovery about her family lineage.
I discovered this novel on NetGalley and was charmed by the description, the cover, and the very coziness of the title itself. Fall is starting to creep in up here in DC, and the mums are already opening tentative buds as the leaves turn golden and flutter to the ground. What better time to read a mystery about the beauty of nature and the joys of gardening? I haven’t read any of the previous books in this series, but The Red Book of Primrose House easily introduced me into Pru’s world and ongoing troubles so I was able to fall right into the mystery while also being intrigued by action from previous novels.
The mystery starts out with a bang (or should I say a stab?) showing the murder before going back in time to Pru’s start at the illustrious house. This reels the reader in and, although we know about the murder, we aren’t quite sure who the victim is, adding even more tension as we wait for the event that we know will happen. The first part of the book is enmeshed with cozy writing and subtle hints, internal conflicts among people that blossom and grow, leading readers to speculate: who will be victim and who killer? The writing brings out the rich sense of history and space, creating that essential atmosphere we cozy fans seek.
However, once the murder occurs and Pru’s haphazard investigation crawls. She barely investigates although she surmises a lot. The stress of working at Primrose House and the demanding nature of her clients keeps her bone tired, and while readers are certainly on edge with the stress of Pru’s life, we all wish that the mystery which initially captivated us would get a move on already, please! The side stories about Pru’s relationship and her discovery about her family are intriguing and well drawn, but they also consume a great deal of page space, pushing the investigation to the backburner. In the conclusion, the killer is predictable, although not the confrontation.
The confrontation between Pru and the killer was very tense and enjoyable. It drew heavily on realism and made readers fear for Pru. The pacing of the ending moments draws out the anguish of hiding and also the quickness of what is happening, combining elements nicely to full effect. The chapters that come afterwards, however, are quite a few and somewhat anticlimactic as they go back to Pru’s personal life.
Overall, The Red Book of Primrose House was an enjoyable read, but not a lasting favorite. The slow pacing and diminishment of investigation makes this cozy mystery fall behind other series out there. Regardless, I was still interested in checking out earlier mysteries in the Potting Shed series. Recommended.
- Frances Carden