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Garden of Secrets Past: An English Garden Mystery by Anthony Eglin
Cover Artist: Photos: Corbis
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312648367
Date: 16 August 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

When Professor William Endicott is found bludgeoned to death near the cryptic Arcadian monument at the garden park of Sturminster Hall, retired botany professor, Lawrence Kingston, is hired to investigate. Kingston's new employer is his nemesis, Lord Francis Morley, who cheated him out of full payment for restoring a garden. Lord Morley, hoping to deter a decline in ticket sales to his garden park, wants Kingston to solve Professor Endicott’s murder.

Soon after, a reclusive historian, Tristan Veitch, dies of poison; he was writing a scathing history on the feud that existed between the Morley brothers who lived in the seventeen hundreds. Samuel Morley was stealing a fortune from his seafaring brother, Admiral James Morley, and using it to build Sturminster Hall. According to legend, the monuments built in the park contain cryptic codes for locating a buried treasure. Kingston must uncover the treasure before he becomes the next victim of a hired assassin.

Anthony Eglin has grown a prize-winning entry in the mystery genre with his carefully nurtured Garden of Secrets Past. Highly intriguing, the plot will appeal to numerous mystery fans. It is a historical mystery with much emphasis on plants and puzzles. I was quickly drawn into the storyline by two murders, which occur near the beginning. With the aid of his independently wealthy friend Andrew, Kingston is determined to solve the murders and locate the treasure. He soon finds himself spied upon, beaten, and shot at by an unknown assailant.

However, the sometimes meandering plot tends to resemble that of a more subdued cozy in lieu of a hardboiled noir. More murders in the present would have helped the pacing. However, there are crimes in the past, described by one character as heinous, that add intrigue. It is obvious from the detailed descriptions of gardens and everything that can be found in them, from the plants to the statuary, that the novel's protagonist and the author are both expert gardeners. Even the poison from the beautiful plant, Aconitum, was used to poison Veitch.

Garden of Secrets Past lacks the humor that is associated with most cozies; however, it does have a pleasant amount of romance. Kingston, who has been a widower since his wife Megan died in a boating accident twelve years ago, is smitten with Amanda Veitch, attractive sister of Tristan Veitch. His infatuation for her becomes more apparent when Inspector Wheatley strongly considers her a suspect in her brother's poisoning death.

As stated earlier, history fans will enjoy Garden of Secrets Past. One real-life historical character is the poet Thomas Grey. He traveled throughout Europe with best friend, Horace Walpole, who was both a playwright and novelist. Lines from Grey's poetry are instrumental in locating Samuel Morley's hidden treasure. Because of the codes, cryptic messages, gothic monuments, hidden compartments and secret chambers, I was reminded of Jon Turteltaub’s hit movie, National Treasure, starring Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger.

It is very understandable why members of garden clubs who love a good mystery are enamored by Anthony Eglin’s novels. Fans of historical mysteries will especially enjoy the series‘ latest installment, Garden of Secrets Past. Readers who enjoyed this novel's puzzling codes should take a look at Parnell Hall’s hilarious Puzzle Lady Mystery series, his latest being $10,000 in Small Unmarked Puzzles.

Furthermore, for those who relished the British police procedures and Chelsea locales of Garden of Secrets Past, they should read Barry Maitland's Chelsea Mansions. Albeit a little more violent than Garden of Secrets Past, this crime noir also deals with buried secrets from the past that threaten those who may uncover them. When an American tourist at the Chelsea Flower Show is thrown beneath a bus, Inspectors David Brock and Kathy Kolla must determine if her murder is connected to a stabbing death of a wealthy Russian business man who lived at nearby Chelsea Mansions. They soon learn that war crimes from the early nineteen hundreds are influencing the murders of present day residents.

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