From Goodreads: “A magnificent house, vast formal gardens, a golden family that shaped California, and a colorful past filled with now-famous artists: the Gardener Estate was a twentieth-century Eden.
And now, just as the Estate is preparing to move into a new future, restoration work on some of its art digs up a grim relic of the home’s past: a human skull, hidden away for decades.
Inspector Raquel Laing has her work cut out for her. Fifty years ago, the Estate’s young heir, Rob Gardener, turned his palatial home into a counterculture commune of peace, love, and equality. But that was also a time when serial killers preyed on innocents–monsters like The Highwayman, whose case has just surged back into the public eye.
Could the skull belong to one of his victims?
To Raquel–a woman who knows all about colorful pasts–the bones clearly seem linked to The Highwayman. But as she dives into the Estate’s archives to look for signs of his presence, what she unearths begins to take on a dark reality all of its own.
Everything she finds keeps bringing her back to Rob Gardener himself. While he might be a gray-haired recluse now, back then he was a troubled young Vietnam vet whose girlfriend vanished after a midsummer festival at the Estate.
But a lot of people seem to have disappeared from the Gardener Estate that summer when the commune mysteriously fell apart: a young woman, her child, and Rob’s brother, Fort.
The pressure is on, and Raquel needs to solve this case–before The Highwayman slips away, or another Gardener vanishes.”
I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy from NetGalley and Bantam/Ballantine/Random House Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
I don’t normally read police procedurals, but I absolutely fell in love with Laurie R King’s writing 25 years ago when I stumbled upon The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Amazon). It was at a time when I was reading every Sherlock Holmes pastiche I could get from the library, and I was not disappointed with the Mary Russell series, which I continue to read to this day. King has a way of describing the settings so vividly that I am transported to the fictional locale she creates.
The same can be said of Back to the Garden (Amazon). There is one setting, the Gardener Estate, but two different timelines, the late 1970s and the present day. The descriptions reminded me a little bit of the Hearst estate, with its vast gardens and acreage. In the 1970’s, the estate was a commune called The Commons, who tore out the flower gardens and replaced them with fruits trees and vegetables, works of art are painted over, new murals and statues put up, and different furniture in most of the rooms. Even though I was just a few years old when the events of the book take place, I definitely got that 70’s vibe as described by King.
Told in dual timelines, the story moves along with short chapters labeled Then and Now so it’s easy to follow along. Each timeline is interesting in its own way. The large cast of characters is easy to follow because of distinctive personalities being fleshed out. I really couldn’t decide which timeline I preferred; they were both written in a way that made them compelling.
The murder mystery is drawn out in a way that makes you want to turn the page and found out not only who was the murderer, but in this case, who was murdered as well. It isn’t until the last few chapters when the reader finds out who the victim was. That’s the work of an expert mystery writer like Laurie R. King.
I did figure out who the murderer was before it was revealed in the pages, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the mystery. I could absolutely see this book become the beginning of a series, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I love the Mary Russell series and want to see more volumes, but I could also see more of investigator Raquel Laing and I’d be fine with that, too.
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