THE SCARLET PEPPER:
A White House Gardener Mystery


By Dorothy St. James

Berkley Prime Crime, April, 2012 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-425-24707-4

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

White House organic gardener Casey Calhoun is very proud of her job and very protective of the First Lady's organic garden. She may not be too good at saving the president's life in mock safety drills, but she's one heck of a gardener.

The White House runs on volunteers, and they are especially important in tending the garden. It bothers Casey to hear two of the old dears gossiping loudly about how another volunteer and her husband, a White House staffer, may be involved in a scandal. The maligned lady's best friend hears them and becomes understandably upset.

The ladies mention Griffon Parker having some juicy scoop about the scandal. He's an annoying reporter who she's crossed paths with before, and he's spreading falsehoods about her organic gardening practices. That bothers her, but there's more to come.

The fall harvest ceremony is fast approaching, and it really ticks her off when someone — not the First Dog, who has been accused, but a human someone — messes with the plants. The media-driven lies about the garden increase in quantity and severity, making Casey livid. Not so livid she'd kill to stop it, but when one reporter is murdered, she becomes a suspect.

She'd thought she and Secret Service agent Jack Turner had something good developing, since they helped solve a crime the previous spring, but lately he's been making himself scarce. When her own life is threatened, she's hoping he'll come through for her, but will he? And will he be in time?

This is the second White House Gardener mystery, after FLOWERBED OF STATE. It is a fun look behind the green door of the White House, with great characters, lots of insider detail, and a well-crafted mystery.

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