2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

Book Review: Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King

About the Book

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.

My Review

I absolutely love the way Laurie R. King tells a story. Whether it’s her fabulous historical Russell/Holmes series or contemporary fiction like Lockdown, she has a magnificent knack for drawing readers in and refusing to let them go until she is finished regaling them with the lives of her characters.

Back to the Garden is a very clever blending of the historical and the contemporary, showcasing her talents both as a novelist and as a researcher. I don’t always enjoy back-and-forth-in-time stories, where the narration shifts in perspective, voice, and time period. It can be disruptive and jarring, and inevitably one of the storylines – current or flashback – is more engaging than the other. Not so at all here. King is brilliant at crafting characters that are flush with life in all its fruits and foibles and is equally adept at establishing – and resolving – mysteries through intricate and interconnected plot lines that weave together into complex and lyrical stories.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and felt like the ending just might hint at the possibility of more adventures with the fearless Raquel Laing – and I for one absolutely hope that is the case. She was a marvelous protagonist and would be a fabulous series-lead!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my obligation-free review copy.

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