The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards has to be one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Set in the Lake District this murder mystery has everything – a beautiful setting captured so well by Martin Edwards, believable characters, and an unsolved murder with a good mixture of mystery and suspense. It’s a well paced, intricate and tense drama that kept me gripped right to the end.
Daniel Kind (see also The Coffin Trail and The Arsenic Labyrinth, my reviews are here and here) joins forces again with DCI Hannah Scarlett (in charge of the Cold Case Review Team) in investigating the murder of Warren Howe, brutally killed in the peaceful village of Old Sawrey, close to Near Sawrey the home of Beatrix Potter. There are plenty of suspects as Warren was a “serial philanderer “ who made scores of enemies and never worried if he trod on people’s toes. An anonymous tip-off to the police and a series of poison pen letters trigger the investigation and long-buried sins are brought to light before the killer is revealed.
Daniel is also tracking down the history of Tarn Cottage, which he and Miranda are renovating. The cottage garden poses a mystery – it is an ” old and melancholic private garden, mysterious and overgrown”, known locally as the Cipher Garden. The original owners and builders of Tarn Cottage, Jacob and Alice Quillers, died of broken hearts on the same day, one year exactly after the death of their son at the end of the Boer War in 1902. Not only is the layout puzzling with its tangled mess of paths meandering aimlessly leading nowhere, false turns and dead ends but the plant choice is also odd- mandrake, hellebore, foxgloves, belladonna and monkey puzzle trees.
Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:
The gathering dusk had become a favourite time for Daniel. He wandered outside the cottage and savoured the scent of old roses, and the colours mingling on the fell, tints of blue and indigo deepening as the sky grew dark. The slopes looked so rich and sensuous that if he could only brush them with his fingertips, it would be like touching velvet. (page 45)
Marc Amos’s bookshop flirted with the senses. If the whiff of old books and background Debussey were insufficiently seductive, the casual visitor would be lured from the craft shops in the courtyard by the rich aromas wafting from the cafeteria. It shared the ground floor of the old mill building with a maze of ceiling-to-floor shelves. Leigh Moffat’s succulent home-based desserts had found fame beyond this corner of the South Lakes and as many people gorged on her lemon cake and Death by Chocolate as on the tens of thousands of books in the store. (page 69)
Your husband has vanished and you come home from work one day to find that the bloke you hired to sort out your garden has been scythed to death and deposited in a trench he excavated himself. But that’s not all. He wasn’t some boring stranger, he was an ex. Someone you got over in your teens, someone you still pass the time of day with. There’s always the tug of nostalgia, if hardly romance. How do you think it made me feel, Chief Inspector? (page 144)
Martin is working on the fourth book in his Lake District Mystery series – The Serpent Pool, which he is aiming to publish in 2010. I’ll be looking out for that one! He also writes a Crime Writing Blog – Do You Write Under Your Own Name? and has a website Martin Edward’s Books.
For another review see Dorte’s blog.