Monday, December 31, 2007

The Gardens of the Dead

by William Brodrick

Started: 23 November 2007
Finished: 27 November 2007

I’ve read mysteries and I’ve read mysteries. If it were only for the fact that I almost never solve the crime before the end of the book, I might still find the genre mildly palatable. Okay, they usually read like a roller coaster ride—wild, crazy twists, ever-increasing speed and mounting build-ups followed by gut-wrenching drop-offs. But so long as I know I’m really physically in my own chair, I can do the occasional mental ‘wild ride’ . . . if that’s all I had to deal with.

However, most mysteries I’ve read recently also feel the need to add in that little something extra—alphabetical or numerical themes, excessive violence and sexual perversion, or some other ‘cute little gimmick’, which – to this booklady – only clutters up an otherwise good story.

Not so The Gardens of the Dead. It is what I would call an intelligent person’s mystery. Some might call it a boring person’s mystery. It isn’t “exciting” in the sense currently in vogue among mystery stories. I would think its appeal would be to thinkers and/or to our higher selves. The author quotes Kierkegaard and Thomas á Kempis. The characters reflect on the possibility of undoing evil, about ‘the forgiveness of the victim’ being more ‘deadly than vengeance’ because ‘it goes right to the heart’. (p103)

And I learned about something very interesting called Locard’s Principle. ‘The idea is that if you touch an object, you leave behind something that wasn’t there in the first place—a little of yourself. By the same token, you take away something that wasn’t on you when you came—part of the object. It’s an alarming fact. We can’t do anything without this interchange occurring.’ (p113)

But what about the story? If Gardens were only a collection of philosophical reflections, it wouldn’t be a mystery, much less a mystery worth reading and recommending.

As it is, the story is excellent! It unfolds slowly, almost stumblingly. The ‘sleuth’, a former lawyer who has become a cloistered monk, Father Anselm is drug–reluctantly–into the case by the written request of a deceased colleague.

Anselm continues to be led to relevant information of the case—sometimes by the deliberate instructions and information of the dead woman, Elizabeth, but more often by circumstances, other people and the unraveling of time. I think I liked The Gardens of the Dead so much because it seemed so realistic to me—something most mystery books don’t.

If you’re looking for excitement and entertainment—both with capital “E”s, this may not be the book for you. But if you want a story you can sink your teeth into, with believable characters you might even want to know, then pick up this book by William Brodrick. Or maybe, you might want to check out the first Father Anselm mystery, The Sixth Lamentation. I usually like to read the first book in a series first. This time I happened to pick up the second book on sale, which is the only reason I read it first.


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