Sophia Rose is here with a mystery for us! Grab a cup of pumpkin spice coffee and see why Sophia recommends, Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King.
Back to the Gardenby Laurie R. King
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A fifty-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life—with potentially fatal consequences—in this gripping standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series
The Gardener Estate is one of the most storied and beloved places on the West Coast: a magnificent house in vast formal grounds, home to a family that shaped California—and fought hard to conceal the turmoil and eccentricities within their walls.
And now, just as the turmoil seems buried and the Estate prepares to move into a new future, construction work unearths a grim relic of the estate’s history: a skull, hidden away some fifty years ago.
Inspector Raquel Laing of the SFPD Cold Case Unit has her work cut out for her. Back in the '70s, the Estate was a commune, when its young heir, Rob Gardener, turned the palatial setting into a counterculture Eden of peace, love, and equality. But the '70s were also a time when serial killers preyed on such innocents—monsters like The Highwayman, whose case has just assumed a whole new urgency.
Could these bones belong to one of his victims?
For Raquel Laing—a woman who knows all about hidden turmoil and eccentricities—the Gardener bones seem clearly linked to The Highwayman. But as she dives into the Estate’s archives for evidence of his presence, what she finds there begins to take on a dark reality of its own.
Everything brings her back to Rob Gardener himself—now a gray-haired recluse, then a troubled young Vietnam vet whose girlfriend vanished after a midsummer festival at the Estate, fifty years ago.
But a lot of people seem to have disappeared from the Gardener Estate that summer, when the commune fell apart and its residents scattered: a young woman, her child, Rob’s brother Fort…
The pressure is on, and Raquel needs to solve this case—before The Highwayman slips away, or another Gardener vanishes.
Sophia Rose’s Review
When old bones are found under a statue on the grounds of a fabulous mansion with a colorful history, a cop on probation wonders if there is a tie to the infamous The Highwayman serial killer from the same period in history.
Laurie R. King has been a favorite author since I first devoured the then released Mary Russell series, Harris Stuyvesant, and the Kate Martinelli series books. King can set up the world of a story and do a deep dive into the personhood and background of her main characters while serving up a steadily paced march to that big suspenseful moment like few others. I was eager to read this latest, which I hope doesn’t turn out to be a standalone.
Raquel is a San Francisco police detective who is good at what she does, but stumbles on the social complexities which gets her into trouble so that when the story opens she’s home on leave. She is put on the Highwayman serial killer case that has been unsolved for fifty years. While working that case, a stunning and intriguing investigation turns up when a hippie festival on the grounds of an old hippie compound that was once the Gardener Estate is capped by the finding of skeletal bones under a statue. Raquel gets pulled to work this new investigation that she privately wonders if it has ties to her serial killer. But even she couldn’t predict the outcome once she follows the evidence to the truth of that time in the past.
Back to the Garden is a split time line mystery with Raquel’s investigation in the present and the Gardener brothers and their choice to turn their inheritance into a commune back in the 70s Robert Gardner had a bad war and came back from Vietnam different which makes him suspect when his girlfriend disappears. But others at the commune go missing when something breaks it up and slowly but surely the answers come for Raquel and the reader. I vaguely remember this period, but I felt the author nailed it and made me feel a tad nostalgic.
I am used to the author’s books sometimes starting slow and ponderous, but it’s been a while since I read one that had the introduction of a new world and characters. I found myself struggling to be interested at times. I did enjoy the cold case investigation skills going on with the police and meeting some of the huge cast of characters. Raquel was okay. I found her imperviousness to social cues made her interesting. Sadly, I was only semi-interested in the past situation though I thought the author wrote the 70’s and the fading hippie culture well. I preferred to stick with the present day investigation mostly because it paced out more swiftly and seemed more relevant, at least in the first half.
But, before I have everyone thinking I didn’t like the book, let me say that it picked up for me as it went along. By the end, I was figuratively biting my nails and tense enough that I couldn’t put the book down until I made to the surprising finish. I got a big surprise over the statue body and somewhat of a surprise about the serial killer. This was a complete mystery though abrupt, but I could see where this could become a series and wouldn’t mind that in the least. If readers haven’t tried the author or her mysteries in the past, I recommend this one for a chance to see her stuff and already fans won’t want to miss this one.
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