The Scarlet Pepper
Publisher: Penguin Group
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Retail Price: 7.99
As the official organic gardener for the White House, Casey Calhoun is usually up to her elbows in something or other. But when someone starts tampering with the Presidential vegetable garden, she soon finds herself in way over her head.
As if it wasn't bad enough that red peppers are growing instead of green ones and cabbage is popping up where the First Lady's favorite lettuce should be--a hard-nosed investigative reporter is found dead after targeting the President's unpopular Chief of Staff.
Raking over the clues and rumors, Casey knows that someone is sabotaging both her garden and the First Lady's reputation. But when she has one close call too many, Casey realizes that the next thing buried in the dirt might just be her...
When it comes to gardening, Cassandra "Casey" Calhoun isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. But when it comes to murder, she's not the kind of gal to let any killer get away clean...
For fans of: Julie Hyzy and Rosemary Harris
Assistant White House gardener Casey Calhoun is busy getting the Presidential vegetable garden ready for its first public harvest; she doesn’t have the time or the inclination to run around Washington D.C. playing Nancy Drew (especially since her last “investigation” nearly got her killed). But then sleazy investigative reporter Griffon Parker is found murdered, and despite the fact that dozens of people had cause to want him dead, it looks like Casey’s being set up to take the fall. Who really killed Parker, and why? Can Casey crack the case and handle the harvest without becoming fodder for the compost heap, herself?
The Scarlet Pepper is Dorothy St. James’ second White House Gardener Mystery, and it’s quite simply a fantastic read. The setup is fun, the plot is rich, and the pacing is quick. The mystery is multiply layered and cleverly constructed – chock full of viable suspects and artfully deployed red herrings. Add to all that the fact that St. James writes about gardening with contagious enthusiasm and obvious expertise, and you have the perfect spring read.
In Casey, St. James has created an incredibly engaging and wonderfully compelling heroine with a fantastically unique origin story. Unlike many of the genre’s leading ladies, Casey has a Past – and a dark one, at that. Her parents were criminals, and she spent much of her childhood on the run. Her father abandoned her, her mother was murdered in front of her, and her mother’s killers then shot young Casey in the stomach and left her to die. She survived, but spent a good deal of time in the foster system before her grandmother and her aunts were finally able to rescue her and give her a safe and loving home. All of that drama and trauma conspires to make Casey who she is today – a strong and caring woman, yes, but also a woman with serious trust and abandonment issues. And it’s clear St. James never lets herself forget the wringer through which she put her main character, because those experiences inform each and every decision Casey makes over the course of the book – from page one right on through to the thrilling conclusion. This gives St. James’ story a wonderful depth, complexity, and sense of realism you don’t often expect to find when reading traditional mysteries.
The supporting characters are fabulous, as well. I’m especially fond of Secret Service agent Jack Turner; handsome, strong, and dependable, he’s got great chemistry with Casey, and is like a sidekick, action hero, and love interest all rolled into one.
Itching to get out there and dig in the dirt, but don’t quite have the energy to pull yourself up off the couch? Read The Scarlet Pepper by Dorothy St. James. It’s a heckuva whodunit, and it’s practically gardening via proxy – what better compromise could you hope to find?
Reviewed by Kat
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