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Back to the Garden

Review

Back to the Garden

In the prologue to Laurie R. King’s BACK TO THE GARDEN, a man in an Army poncho watches as a strange car approaches his homestead on a rainy night. Exiting the vehicle is an individual who resembles a junior partner at a law firm. He’s looking for Rob Gardener, and the man in the poncho responds, “Has the Old Bastard finally died?” This scene from the past kicks off the family saga of the Gardener Estate that is at the heart of this novel, which jumps back and forth in time as secrets are uncovered and revealed.

In present day, Jen Bachus is the manager of the Gardener Estate, a place with a vast and colorful past filled with communal living and now famous artists. She works closely with Mrs. Dalhousie, the Estate’s archivist and conservator, who is mainly there for the sculptures from the artist known as Gaddo. Both Jen and Mrs. Dalhousie are horrified when a human jawbone is uncovered on their property.

"BACK TO THE GARDEN is a pleasant departure for Laurie R. King. It is so nice to see all original characters from her after being addicted to her wonderful Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series."

This immediately begins talk of the famed serial killer who is still incarcerated, The Highwayman, who terrorized the West Coast for years. It is enough to bring out Inspector Raquel Laing to investigate. Raquel has been working the Highwayman case for a while and is desperate to learn if this grisly find in some way might be related to the monster in custody.

In conducting her investigation, Raquel must talk to everyone connected to the Gardener Estate who has been around since the time of the Highwayman murders. That means meeting with people like Rob, who appears to have never left the ’70s. It stands to reason as flashback sequences show a once proud Vietnam veteran returning to nothing but jeers of “baby killer” and shame. He didn’t even feel comfortable around his own family, including his older brother, Fort, who eventually came back home from India.

It seems that everything in the past sort of culminated in one specific event, a live music festival at the estate called “Back to the Garden,” which was held on June 22, 1979. The festival would not end without controversy, including a handful of disappearances that included Rob’s girlfriend. It also was allegedly the last time that anyone heard from Fort, who supposedly headed back to India. There were a plethora of questions surrounding the people associated with Rob Gardner, yet no inquiries were ever made. Now, years later, it must be determined if that skull piece is a remnant of the Highwayman’s work or the ill-fated festival.

Frustratingly, the deeper Raquel digs, the more questions she unearths than answers. But she has a reputation for being extremely clever and diligent in her work and plans to see this case through to the end. The Gardner Estate and family may be full of secrets, but sniffing them out happens to be her specialty.

BACK TO THE GARDEN is a pleasant departure for Laurie R. King. It is so nice to see all original characters from her after being addicted to her wonderful Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 10, 2022

Back to the Garden
by Laurie R. King

  • Publication Date: September 6, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0593496566
  • ISBN-13: 9780593496565