Reviewed by Kathy Perschmann
Stephanie Barron is also the author of the Jane Austen mystery series.
The White Garden is a novel featuring the White Garden at Sissinghurst, a National Trust gem in Kent. Landscape designer and gardener Jo Bellamy is hired by the rich, spoiled American millionaire Graydon Westlake to re-create the White Garden at an estate in New York. He has paid for her to travel to England to research it in more depth.
Soon after she shares her exciting news with her beloved gardener grandfather, Jock, who was born in England, he commits suicide. While in England she does a little historical research into his family, and discovers that Jock’s father was a gardener at Knole, Vita Sackville West’s family home, and that Jock had been “loaned” to Vita for Sissinghurst in the early 1940s.
Imogen Cantwell, the head gardener for the trust, is rooting around in old gardening sheds with Jo when they uncover an old journal, with a tag that says “Jock’s Book,” dated March 29, 1941. In the journal, an unnamed woman had suddenly arrived at Sissinghurst, and was recording her thoughts. Could it be Virginia Woolf?
Cantwell lets Jo take the slim notebook to her hotel to read, and the next morning Jo dashes off to Sotheby’s to try to get it authenticated. She finds expert Peter Llewellyn in a restaurant, and he reads the book, and then talks her into a trip to Oxford to meet with an expert. Jo is dealing with the advances of her client, Graydon, who has flown to London to try and seduce her, and her growing attraction to Peter.
Their expert, Margaux Strand, takes off with the notebook, and they chase after her across the country following very obscure clues, eventually to the Woolf’s last home, Monk’s House. There were some weeks between Virginia Wolf’s last note to her husband Leonard, and the discovery of her body. Had she been in the River Ouse the whole time? Was her death a suicide? Who was “the Lady” that Jock wrote about in his last note to Jo?
Barron has worked as a journalist, and a CIA analyst, and has degrees in History from Georgetown and Stanford. Her research is fascinating.
Armchair Interviews says: A 5-star read from Stephanie Barron.
Author’s Web site: http://www.StephanieBarron.com