Englishwoman Gemma Doyle now lives in the town of West London in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. There she co-owns The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium with her Uncle Arthur Doyle—a spry nonagenarian who likes to travel and romance the ladies. Gemma also co-owns the adjoining shop, Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, which is run by her best friend and business partner Jayne Wilson.
Gemma has a reputation for solving mysteries, so when 11-year-old Lauren Tierney can’t find her kitten Snowball she asks Gemma to help. Gemma serendipitously locates the feline while walking her cocker spaniel, Violet, and cements herself as a heroine in Lauren’s eyes. Afterwards, when Lauren’s mother is suspected of murder, the girl asks Gemma for assistance once again.
This puts Gemma on the horns of dilemma. The bookstore owner loves to investigate homicides, but she’s been told to stop sticking her nose into police business by her boyfriend Detective Ryan Ashburton and his partner Detective Louise Estrada. Nevertheless, Gemma feels she can’t let Lauren down, and snoops around anyway.
Gemma learns that Lauren’s mother, Sheila Tierney, and the victim, Anna Wentworth, were fellow members of the West London Garden Club. Both women were expert horticulturists whose yards were on the prestigious garden tour, and in competition for the best garden trophy. On the morning of the judging Sheila awoke to find her flowers and bushes destroyed. Completely distraught, Sheila rushed to Anna’s house, accused her of sabotage, and loudly threatened her. Later that night Anna was killed while walking her dog, Peony.
The police find few clues at Anna’s murder scene, but Sheila’s previous behavior makes her a prime suspect. Moreover, whispers circulate that Sheila was having an affair with Anna’s husband, Mike. While the police make their inquiries, Gemma sneakily inspects the crime scene, surreptitiously snoops into the lives of the Tierneys and Wentworths, and mines the West London rumor mill for information.
During the investigation, 11-year-old Lauren Tierney and her cat Snowball become temporary houseguests at Gemma’s home. Since school is out for the summer, Lauren also helps out at the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium—where she assists customers, and at Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Shop—where she learns to bake. Lauren is a sweet girl who hopes to clear her mother of suspicion and repair her parents’ seemingly troubled marriage.
When Gemma is busy outside the emporium, she leaves the bookstore in the capable hands of her twentysomething assistant Ashleigh, whose eccentric wardrobe reflects her mood. For instance, inspired by a garden club visit, Ashleigh wears a floppy straw hat, a pair of baggy trousers tucked into yellow-and-purple rubber boots, and a T-shirt that says ‘Gardening is Life’. The emporium also gets occasional help from Gemma’s friend Donald – a former lawyer turned Sherlock Holmes scholar – who likes to wear an inverness cape and deerstalker hat.
In addition to running her business, Gemma has daily partners’ meetings with Jayne in the tea shop. There the ladies enjoy the eatery’s leftovers, which can be egg and salmon tea sandwiches, raspberry tarts, mini coconut cupcakes, and raspberry macarons. Gemma and Jayne also pursue their romantic interests, Gemma’s being her cop boyfriend Ryan Ashburton and Jayne’s being her restaurateur beau Andy Whitehall. Gemma couldn’t be happier about this, since she’s been trying to get Jayne and Andy together for ages.
Despite police objections, Gemma unearths clues that help solve the murder, which the astute reader may sniff out as well.
This is an enjoyable cozy mystery with a pleasant New England setting and popular recurring characters.
Thanks to NetGalley, Vicki Delany, and Crooked Lane Books for a copy of the book.