The Gardener’s Secret by S. Hansberger Review

The Gardener’s Secret by S. Hansberger is a remarkable suspense filled thriller with a host of characters that are as charming as the story. There’s no gruesome murders, no big mystery to solve, and the protagonist isn’t an amateur sleuth. Still the book unfolds much like a cozy in that it’s a comfort read that leaves the reader satisfied and at one with the world, rather than scared to sleep alone with the lights on.

I accepted The Gardener’s Secret by S. Hansberger for review, not knowing what to expect. Intrigued by the synopsis, of course, I wanted to know what the gardener’s secret was. Who wouldn’t? But this debut novel turned out to be so much more than expected, and one of the most well-written and entertaining novels I’ve read this year. Hansberger artfully constructed and tightly plotted a unique and clever story that is a true pleasure to read.

The Gardener’s Secret Publisher’s Synopsis

Believing she’ll get to report gritty news, Callie accepts a job at her hometown newspaper. Instead, she’s assigned the gardening column—a subject she knows nothing about. She begs advice from a tight-lipped neighbor when he admits he’s a retired gardener, even though his mannerisms and speech suggest he’s anything but. Not knowing the full truth doesn’t matter—she needs his help. The townsfolk think him strange and warn Callie to keep her distance, but she regards him and his family as friends. Learning their horrifying secret doesn’t deter her, even though loyalty will draw her into danger.

The Wild Rose Press, Inc. ( 2024)

Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Shelia Hansberger | Pub Date 29 January 2024 | ISBN 9781509253029 |

The Gardener’s Secret Review

Tragedy strikes for Georgia native Callie Lou James when her ailing father dies unexpectedly while she is away in California attending UCLA. With three years of college under her belt, Callie feels she must put her goal of completing a journalism degree and her dream of finding a job with a major newspaper on hold temporarily. She leaves schools and returns to her hometown of Willoughby to care for her grieving mother.

After arriving home, when life returns to normal for Callie and her mother, she meets by happenstance a reclusive family–a father, his adult daughter, and his one-year-old grandson–in the neighborhood. While the father, William Smith, seems standoffish and uncommunicative, he comes to Callie’s aid when she takes a tumble while walking her dog Rascal and suffers minor injuries. After meeting Smith, Callie’s curiosity gets the best of her and she perseveres in getting acquainted with Smith and his family. At first, all Smith tells her is he is a retired gardener, and she sees plenty of evidence around his home that he is an expert gardener.

Later, the local weekly newspaper, the Willoughby Tribune, offers Callie a part-time position as a gardening columnist. It’s a far cry from her dreams of writing gritty news articles under a byline at a major publication and doesn’t pay much, but Callie accepts the position because it offers some practical journalism experience. The only problem is she knows nothing about gardening. Undaunted, she persuades her neighbor, retired gardener William Smith, to mentor her. Soon, a friendship develops between Callie and the Smith family and one day, William Smith shares a closely held and disturbing secret, which explains all about what the Smith family is so reclusive and resistant to making the acquaintance of their neighbors. Once she learns the secret, Callie feels protective of the family and committed to safeguarding their secret, but eventually the knowledge puts her own safety and well being at tremendous risk.

The Smith family secret serves almost like a MacGuffin in the story, so of course I won’t share the secret here and spoil the fun for those who may wish to read the book. Suffice to say it makes for an entertaining story and explains the motivations of the characters.

Hansberger is a talented writer and storyteller who has mastered the art of showing, not telling. Readers become acquainted with the characters organically by learning how they interact with one another. The author inserts background facts where necessary to aid the reader’s understanding, but there are no information dumps. The characters, the protagonist and the supporting characters, are vivid and vibrant. There is a hint of potential violence running in the background after the secret gets revealed that helps keeps the suspense and tension building throughout, but the reader finds no gruesome murders here. It is a suspense filled thriller, but reads almost like a cozy mystery, a comfort read that leaves the reader satisfied and at one with the world, rather than scared to sleep alone with the lights on. Themes include friendship, family struggles, and loyalty.

Fans of edge-of-your-seat suspense thrillers will enjoy The Gardener’s Secret and those who enjoy reading cozy mysteries should enjoy it as well, despite the absence of a murder mystery to solve and an amateur sleuth. It’s a lovely book with a literary feel that I heartily recommend.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher for consideration of a review. This review represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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