|White House assistant gardener Casey is up to her elbows in dirt – organic dirt that is – as she and the garden volunteers prepare for the First Lady harvesting from her kitchen garden. This event will promote organic gardening practices, heirloom vegetables and good nutrition. Several problems have cropped up as the nation’s capital is in the midst of a heat wave; the First Dog has been digging up the garden nightly and Casey is failing miserably when participating in emergency drills.
She is dogged by one volunteer, Francesca Dearing, whose husband is President Bradley’s chief of staff, and with whom Casey is planning a fund raising murder mystery dinner. When local reporter Griffon Parker, who is working on a piece about the Dearings that has the president and his staff worried, is found dead in the park, Francesca helpfully points out to the police that though it looks like suicide, Parker’s death mimics the suggestions Casey had for the murder mystery dinner.
Annoyed at Francesca for sending DC’s finest in her direction, Casey points out that Francesca and Bruce both had motives for wanting Parker out of the way. A hunky Secret Service agent and possible love interest for Casey warns her away from the investigation and tries to keep her safe. While at the same time, he tries to keep her out of the sights of the White House staff as she continually gets in their way trying to do her job, such as moving old bags of fertilizer that set off sensors as bombs, a foreshadowing of events to come that could prove disastrous not only for Casey and her staff but for the entire nation.
Casey Calhoun, on the brink of forty, as she points out several times, is trying to come to grips with a past she barely remembers: she knows her father left Casey and her mother and that her mother was murdered, young Casey shot and left to die. She was raised by her Southern grandmother and aunts after that and continues to have recurring nightmares, but cannot recall more of the events leading up to her mother’s murder, though she is certain they are close to the surface.
Casey has a hard time getting close to Jack, not sure if it is his job that keeps him at arms’ length or if he really is only interested in her as a fellow White House employee. The mystery is as well-plotted as Casey’s garden, with several viable suspects, including a celebrity gardener whom Casey thinks may be trying to horn in on her gig. Casey has a good relationship with the earth and plants but needs to further cultivate her relationships with people so she can form longer lasting relationships.
There are many people who are glad to see Parker dead, and many with the means and opportunity, making this a particularly difficult case, especially when all signs point to Casey. Readers will figure out who is behind the death and mayhem early on, though the motives will only become clear as the story unfolds.
--Jennifer Monahan Winberry