The Scarlet Pepper (A White House Gardener Mystery)
by Dorothy St. James
Cover Artist: Mary Ann Lasher
Review by Harriet Klausner
Berkley Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425247044
Date: 03 April 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Assistant gardener at the White House, Casey Calhoun, is in charge of the organic vegetable garden. First Lady Margaret Bradley is as great plant lover as Casey is. The First Lady is especially big on organics.
Casey is concerned over digging marks at the Kitchen Garden. However, like everyone else, she assumes the First Dog is responsible. A stunned Casey soon knows otherwise when green pepper grows instead of the red she planted and cabbage replaced lettuce. Someone is playing mean tricks on Margaret and Casey, but who is unknown, and the why seems to be to embarrass the First Lady when she gathers the harvest while reporters watch as the Watercressgate scandal breaks which accuses the gardener of plant cheating.
Aggressive Media Today investigative reporter Griffon Parker and Casey have a heated public argument. Soon afterward, he is found dead and garden volunteer, Francesca Dearing, wife of the chief of staff, sends the DC police to Casey as his death matches that suggested by the gardener for a murder mystery dinner benefit. Not much later, a shocked Casey has her professional skills trashed when TV Scotsman Gillis Farquhar host of Gardening the Farquhar Way: Organic, is hired to save the organic Kitchen Garden. Though upset and hurt, Casey works on repairing the garden and investigating who is destroying it, but soon her inquiry spins into accidents, murder, abandonment, and blackmail. Jack the Secret Service man who likes Casey, warns her to quit her investigation before she is killed.
The second White House Gardener Mystery (see Flowerbed of State) is an exciting amateur sleuth series that stars a young woman who is used to working with dirt. Casey is an independent relationship phobic who had to be strong after her father abandoned her and her mother; and her mom later was murdered with Casey left to die. Jack poses a problem for Casey as she likes him but dislikes getting close to anyone. Her past, even with her suffering nightmares, enable the reader to accept Casey's investigation (and her struggles with a relationship) as her sleuthing is not a way out of trouble as the sub-genre norm; though how well she does is over the top of the Lincoln Memorial. Additionally, the series focuses on the eccentric people who take pride in their work while doing their best at the White House.
The storyline contains several mysteries that for the most part blend together in a twisting scenario. The heroine wonders who would pull off the pranks that have the media howling watercressgate, which leads to the addition of the Scot in a skirt. The murder mystery is also complex though the audience will know relatively early on who the killer is, but not the motive. Cozy fans will enjoy the engaging The Scarlet Pepper that sprouted green.