Literary caterer Letitia ‘Tish’ Tarragon is preparing her English Secret Garden-themed luncheon for Coleton Creek’s annual garden club awards, but when she is taken on a tour of some of the top contenders with the garden club’s president, Jim Ainsley, Tish is surprised at how seriously the residents take the awards – and how desperate they are to win. Wealthy, retired businessman Sloane Shackleford has won the coveted best garden category five years in a row, but he and his Bichon Frise, Biscuit, are universally despised. When Sloane’s bludgeoned body is discovered in his pristine garden, Tish soon learns that he was disliked for reasons that go beyond his green fingers. Have the hotly contested awards brought out a competitive and murderous streak in one of the residents?
The delectable new Tish Tarragon cozy is a tantalising follow-up to COOKIN’ THE BOOKS, and the perfect summer read for anyone who enjoys garden tea parties… and cake! Find out more about Tish and the mystery she is confronted with in this revealing book extract.
Tish was deep in thought as she hastened along Coleton Creek Way on her way back to the lifestyle center. Meeting Zadie Morris – the legendary Zadie Morris, Cosmetic Queen – had led her to reflect upon her childhood. The long, sweet summer evenings when her mother, dressed in her best Saturday Night Fever disco attire would apply a coat of glossy coral Zadie lipstick and leave Tish in the care of her grandparents for the night and, if it were a weekend, part of the following morning.
Sundays spent at her grandparents’ house were the days Tish loved best. Waking to the smell of coffee, Tish would get dressed, pad downstairs, and meet her grandfather in the kitchen, where they’d both enjoy a ‘cup of joe’ – his milk and no sugar, hers all milk and a tablespoon of sweetened brewed coffee. Upon drinking their respective beverages, grandfather and granddaughter would gather the week’s stale, leftover bread pieces into a resealable plastic bag, buckle themselves into the cream colored 1978 Buick LeSabre sedan parked in the driveway, and drive to the local duck pond. Once the bread was gone and the avian population of the pond was carb-filled and content, Tish and her grandfather would then travel to their favorite bakery for rolls and pastries for the morning breakfast.
Post-breakfast meant the dull routine of church, followed by Sunday lunch. Years later, after her grandfather had passed away, Tish’s grandmother, her faith in God and will to live eroded, would do away with church entirely. But Sunday lunch, invariably in the form of a stringy old roasting hen and overcooked vegetables, always prevailed.
After the lunch dishes had been washed and put away came the highlight of the weekend – the Sunday drive. For Tish’s grandfather, who had been raised in a coldwater flat in New York City during the Great Depression, the Sunday drive was an opportunity to show the world that the grimy kid from the Bowery had achieved the American dream. For Tish’s grandmother, who stayed home and tended to household chores and yard work, the Sunday drive was a chance to switch out her housecoat for a colorful dress, apply a few pats of Emeraude dusting powder, and swipe on her favorite shell pink Zadie lipstick.
For Tish, those halcyon afternoons were the only part of the week where her nuclear family and her extended family combined. There, in the giant backseat of the Century, she’d start sing-alongs, enjoy the scenery outside the open windows, play ‘I Spy’, and laugh.
A car drove past, snapping Tish back into the present day. She had lost so much since those untroubled, sun dappled days. A grandfather. A grandmother. A mother. A marriage. A home.
Tish blinked back her tears and drew a deep breath. There was no use in dwelling upon the past. It was the present and future that mattered and Tish’s future looked very bright, indeed, unless she failed to meet the Coleton Creek Garden Club’s expectations.
And there was a growing chance she might. There were still chickens to poach and shred, sandwich fillings to prepare, and several hot beverage dispensers to wash and sterilize. The workload awaiting Tish bordered on daunting, yet Sloane Shackleford’s murder was making it increasingly difficult to concentrate on catering, recipes, and mundane kitchen tasks.
Was someone at Coleton Creek responsible for Shackleford’s death? As Tish learned of motive after motive on the part of Coleton Creek’s residents, it seemed exceedingly likely. She recalled Susannah Hilton’s account of Shackleford’s harassment and both Pepper Aviero’s and Callie Collingsworth’s final, vulgar assessment of the man as a bastard. Had Shackleford been taken down by a vengeful woman? Or maybe even two? The scenario Zadie Morris suggested was not outside the realm of possibility.
Or had Shackleford met his fate at the hands of one of the gardeners from whom he snatched victory? Both Orson Baggett and Wren Harper seemed confident that Shackleford’s presence was the only thing standing between them and the best garden trophy.
And then there was the suspicious screaming match between Shackleford and the Knoblochs. Why did Shackleford bring a bag of construction materials to the meeting? Did he know something scandalous about the Knoblochs? And what, if anything, did the Knoblochs know about Shackleford?
THE GARDEN CLUB MURDER is available now in the UK and from 1 September in the US! Read more here.