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Back to the Garden

Back to the Garden, September 2022
by Laurie R. King

Bantam
336 pages
ISBN: 0593496566
EAN: 9780593496565
Kindle: B09N6VSKG7
Hardcover / e-Book
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"Tightly woven contemporary mystery with 70’s hippie commune flashbacks"

Fresh Fiction Review

Back to the Garden
Laurie R. King

Reviewed by Make Kay
Posted September 17, 2022

Mystery Historical

BACK TO THE GARDEN is a sparkling new standalone police procedural from mystery maven Laurie R. King.  I think King is probably best known now for her Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes historical mystery series, although she's also got another fine contemporary investigative series featuring Kate Martinelli.  BACK TO THE GARDEN brings us another outstanding female detective in Inspector Raquel Laing.  In a fun hat tip to King's other works, Laing's colleagues have dubbed Laing "the Sherlock of San Francisco" because of her "uncanny ability to put together unrelated facts."  
 
This is a tightly knit plot with lots of delightful misdirection that kept me guessing to the end.  Inspector Laing is a Cold Case Unit investigator for San Francisco.  She and her team are racing the clock to get answers about his many victims from a hospitalized serial killer on his cancer deathbed.  Laing is flung into a breakneck investigation at the Gardener Estate in Palo Alto, trying to get answers before the serial killer passes and they lose their chance at solving a potentially linked cold case.  The remains of someone killed in the seventies may be one of the serial killer's victims, found underneath a monumental sculpture from a famous avant-garde artist who once worked with the commune that was based on the Gardener Estate.  The sense of inexorable rushing of time nicely elevates the tension in the story.
 
The story toggles back and forth between the current day investigation and flashbacks to the commune life in the seventies.  The estate owner was a multimillionaire who is sticking it to The Man (The Man is his heinous grandfather, haha) by opening up the property for a free love commune.  Seething emotions make the commune's path murky as the tale progresses, and there are so many possibilities for the killer and victim at the commune that it is quite fun to try to figure out whodunit.
 
King does her typical bang-up job of delivering a resounding cast of intriguing characters with a lush backdrop of evocative time and place.  Capable and obsessive, Laing is a fabulous protagonist who draws the reader in.  BACK TO THE GARDEN is an intricate and taut mystery with plenty of tension, sure to please.

Learn more about Back to the Garden

SUMMARY

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.


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