Duncan’s amiable follow-up to Adultery for Beginners (2005) pairs the tribulations of modern love with the far less titillating world of historic British gardens.
A historian specializing in English landscape, Dr. Anna Carmichael lectures, gives tours and researches private gardens. Old Mrs. Davenport hires Anna to investigate the ruined grounds of her beloved estate, Templecombe, hoping she will be able to find something unusual so that grants can be obtained to restore the garden. On her first day at Templecombe, Anna meets the two men who will occupy the next year of her life: rugged gardener and handyman Will Sutton; and Oliver Davenport, charming young heir to the estate. Although Anna feels an immediate affinity with Will, Oliver sweeps her off her feet and plunges her into his posh London world of designer boutiques, chic restaurants, club openings and cocaine-fueled weekends. Though her friends start to worry about her, Anna is thrilled with her transformation into the shiny, champagne-swigging girlfriend of one of London’s most eligible bachelors. (Readers may briefly wonder, however, why two hunks are so taken with this stuffy historian.) Meanwhile, her work is suffering, her debt is rising and her report to Mrs. Davenport is her shoddiest work to date. Oliver is suspiciously dismissive about Anna’s investigation of the garden, but with black-tie affairs and a trip to Prague planned, she decides to agree with him that the evidence for Templecombe as a historic find is slim and not worth pursuing. This angers Will, who sees Oliver for the spoiled brat he is . . . but who is Will? The dashing romantic who treats Anna to a dreamy, chaste evening in the garden also admits to being a murderer—so much for the perfect man. Anna figures it all out by end, but along the way are tedious descriptions of gardens coupled with a not-very-convincing personal journey from divorced academic to free spirit.
Few surprises, but a solid contemporary romance nonetheless.