Sunday, October 21, 2018

REVIEW: The Garden Plot (audiobook) by Marty Wingate, narrated by Erin Bennett

The Garden Plot is a cozy mystery, the first in Wingate's Potting Shed Mysteries series. I checked it out via one of several library Overdrive collections I have access to.


Pru Parke used to dream about living in England. All her life, she'd avoided close ties with everyone but her parents, particularly her English mother. Texas never felt like home to her. So, several years after her mother's death, Pru decides to quit her job, move to London, and get a job as head gardener somewhere. She manages the first two things easily enough, but finding a head gardener position proves to be even more difficult than she expected. After nearly a year of one temporary gardening job after another, she has a mountain of rejection letters and will soon have to move out of the flat she's been renting.

Her latest temporary job has the potential, she thinks, to grow into something more permanent. Her employers, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, seem like kind and welcoming people, and Mrs. Wilson clearly misses her old home and garden. It's possible they might hire her to turn their mess of a backyard into a proper garden, if they like her work. Pru does as much as she can in the short time she's been given, and her efforts uncover part of a Roman mosaic...and also a body.

I wasn't sure what to make of Pru, at first. Although she was in her early 50s, she seemed impulsive enough that I kept mentally picturing her as a twenty-something. It took Wingate far too long to explain Pru's family history and establish that she really did have a connection to England - her move wasn't completely out of the blue.

I liked Pru well enough, despite my somewhat rocky introduction to her, and I was emotionally invested enough in her to worry about her employment situation and what would happen if she didn't manage to get a job in time. Of course, considering that this was the first book in a series, it was pretty obvious that something would come along. Even so, the rejection letters the book was peppered with made me wince for her each time.

I didn't immediately peg DCI Christopher Pearse as Pru's potential love interest. He didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd date a woman who was in any way involved in one of his ongoing investigations. But he kept reappearing, and the way he and Pru butted heads just a little had "romantic subplot" bells ringing in my head. I was willing to see where it would go because I thought his combination of overly stiff demeanor and nerdy love of badgers and hedgehogs was kind of cute.

Unfortunately, the more Christopher and Pru progressed as a couple, the less I enjoyed the book. It seemed like Christopher was being positioned to be Pru's knight in shining armor, constantly having to save her in order to show her that she didn't have to do everything herself. There was one bit of trouble I could see coming from a mile away - it was obvious that Pru was being maneuvered and was too trusting for her own good. I was a little surprised that that incident didn't cause her to doubt the other things she was absolutely sure about, like her insistence that Mr. Wilson couldn't possibly have killed anyone and her belief that the noises in her flat were just due to mice (she heard whole pieces of furniture moving! what kind of mouse moves furniture?). The further I got into the story, the more foolish Pru seemed.

I also felt that Christopher handled Pru's numerous instances of interfering or butting into his investigation better than she deserved. Fairly early on, he lectured her about her habit of playing amateur detective. I had thought (hoped) she'd learned her lesson, but she proceeded to screw up again, in a pretty big way, later on. Pru was shaking and in tears when she finally decided to tell him what she'd done, and I was sure he'd decide to put a bit of distance between the two of them, leaving room for their relationship to be mended in the next book, or whenever Pru needed a knight in shining armor again. Instead, he basically just patted her on the back and told her it was okay. It really threw me.

Erin Bennett's narration was appealing and usually pretty good, although there were a few times Pru's Texas accent slid a bit too much in the direction of Bennett's regular reading voice. I also wondered what a native Texan would think of her accent for Pru, although I suppose any oddities could be explained away as being due to Pru's mother's influence. Bennett's narration is one of the main reasons why I think I'll be giving the next book in this series a shot, despite my disappointment with Pru's worryingly frequent moments of stupidity.

Since this was a gardening-themed cozy, I had hoped there'd be some good gardening details. There were a few, but unfortunately Pru didn't really get a chance to shine, considering most of her work involved clearing the mess in the Wilsons' backyard and occasionally talking about roses with their neighbor. I'm looking forward to seeing Pru in a more stable situation in the next book, where she'll maybe have projects she can see through from start to finish.

Additional Comments:

I noticed several grammatical errors, usually involving incorrect uses of the word "whom." I was able to confirm that at least one of them was present in the original text, so I don't think they were examples of Bennett misspeaking. Here's hoping that the next book has fewer distracting errors.

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