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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 March 2006
Realising that she doesn’t have long left to live, court prosecutor Elizabeth Glendenning leaves behind the work she has accumulated on a particular case in a safe deposit box, entrusting a key with her former deputy, Anselm Duffy, who has since left the court service to become a monk. The case that has occupied the attentions of Elizabeth is an old one, a seemingly minor case that some tenants brought against their landlord, Graham Riley. Elizabeth’s defence of Riley’s case was successful, but the acquittal of her client has had some serious repercussions in the subsequent years, and Elizabeth’s conscience makes her is determined to make amends. Her death leaves the case in the hands of her son Nick and Anselm, with only a few posthumous letters and the testimony of Blind George – a homeless man with no short-term memory – the only clues to unravelling the mystery of Riley and the Pieman.
I haven’t read Brodrick’s previous novel ‘The Sixth Lamentation’ and I don’t put much stock by the ‘Richard & Judy Bookclub’ recommendation, but it appears to have attracted differing opinions on the quality of the writing. Personally, I found ‘The Gardens of the Dead’ rather well-written and certainly well-plotted, Brodrick presenting an intriguing situation with several different threads and plenty of gaps and mysteries, savouring over every little detail of characterisation and the gradual revelations. Occasionally it gets a little confusing with flashbacks to different timelines, but this is just another delightful puzzle to work through.
You could question the whole premise of Elizabeth’s leaving so many obscure clues scattered across so many unreliable witnesses (including a homeless person with no memory) rather than just simply telling Anselm what she has uncovered, but I think this is part of the enjoyment of the book and part of its whole purpose - uncovering the lives that people keep secret, and getting beneath the comfortable lies they allow themselves to believe – needing to allow people the time and strength to face up to those events in the past that have set the course of their lives and made them who they are.
‘The Gardens of the Dead’ contains many wonderful observations about people and the bonds between them, with well-defined characters and an intriguing mystery that delivers a strong resolution that has real emotional resonance. Brodrick is clearly a very talented writer and this is a fine novel.
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on 24 June 2007
Not unexpectedly, a female QC dies due to a heart condition. She was on a mission to correct a wrong in her life having earlier successfully defended a guilty person. Despite her death, she did leave clues to those close to her to reveal the full story of the events years ago. One of those is Father Anselm, a barrister and monk, who appeared in `The Sixth Lamentation', Brodrick's debut novel.

The barrister-monk combination perhaps lifted my expectations too high but, to my mind, Father Anselm plays a very minor role in unravelling the mystery. There is no clever `lawyering' or similar either. The story is not elaborate, as the cover claims, and I found it to be full of strange characters and situations. I really struggled to move through the novel and it wasn't until after 250 pages or so that things started to happen. I clearly didn't find the writing style to be very engaging.

Others have commented that `The Sixth Lamentation' was better and I think I'll reserve further comments on Brodrick's writing skills until I've read it. This one though didn't do a great deal to excite me. 7/10
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on 3 April 2006
This book is a rather pale imitation of the author's first novel. While entertaining enough, I felt it was 100 pages too long. Whilst I have no problem with flashbacks or the same event being covered from several perspectives; I did not feel that this book was enhanced by this device. It felt repetitive.
I also struggle to see why there was such a convoluted puzzle that the main character had to solve. The wisdom of leaving clues with a wide range of people, particularly a man with no short term memory is a glaring plot hole for me. Towards the end of the book, I kept on thinking... oh no, not another coincidence! The temptation to put yet another plot twist in a novel such as this gives it a false, forced feel.
The plotline with Elizabeth's son and husband also felt as it was incidental or poorly developed. After reading the 6th Lamentation, I was really looking forward to this book and was a little disappointed.
Lastly there is a minor quibble with the age of one of the characters, Nancy. The novel is set in the present day but she was a teenager during the blitz, which would date her at nearly 80. Yet she is married to one of the other characters who would be in his late 50's. Her actions are more likely those of a 50 year old, so I found this a little annoying. Perhaps, if you come to this book without having read the first Anselm novel it might be more enjoyable.
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At heart there's a good story here replete with moral overlacings, but Brodrick over-complicates the narrative and sacrifices pace for no good reason. Other reviewers have already discussed the plot so I won't, but too much happens in the last 70-100 pages, rather than gradually being revealed over the whole book.

The story is told through the view-point of what felt like me to be too many characters: Elizabeth, her son Nick, Anselm, Riley, Riley's wife, George. And the time of their telling flips backwards and forwards: the present after Elizabeth's death, the run-up to the trial, the trial period itself, 5 years after the trial, the present before her death, the youth of the characters, the past through George's notebooks... I'm not a reader who's easily confused, and I don't have any problem with fragmented narratives, but this felt unwieldy and unnecessary, bad structuring rather than something deliberate.

As some other reviewers have mentioned there are also too many coincidences, so that the characters we think of as having been arbitrarily brought together for a trial, turn out to have a secret shared history. This seemed unconvincing to me, particularly as it all unravels very late in the book with no clues or indications that would have turned this into a satisfying denouement.

Brodrick's writing is sensitive, thoughtful, sometimes deep and almost elegiac but in this novel, at least, the tone became submerged beneath a slightly haphazard narrative. So while I didn't particularly enjoy this book, I'm looking forward to reading A Whispered Name and am hoping the strangulated story we have here becomes straightened out.
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on 27 November 2013
Not one of Father Anselm's best. The plot - and style of writing - is too convoluted and tortuous and ends up being unbelievable, too far-fetched, relying too much on coincidence and an incestuous pattern of every character and every one of their actions being minutely inter-related.
Fortunately Brodrick writes very well or the book would have quickly become tedious and too heavy going for simple pleasure reading. While it is thoroughly enjoyable to have a writer who takes his time and is not an adherent to the crash, bang, wallop school of novelists, this book could become just a little too labyrinthine and slow. Never mind, you can forgive Father Anselm most things so even his less good cases make better reading than most detective fiction.
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on 14 March 2006
This is the excellent 2nd. novel by William Brodrick featuring Father Anselm barrister turned monk. To enjoy it you won't need to read "The sixth lamentation" but why not do that first and enjoy two good books.
A trail of clues from a key; letters and a story told in the past and the present result in a solution to the mystery and explain the actions of the recently deceased Elizabeth Glendinning,QC.
Well constructed,cleverly plotted and very enjoyable. I couldn't put it down.
I orderded this book in February 2005 (Last year!) and don't know why there was a delay but it has been worth waiting for. I can't wait to read the next one.
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on 11 January 2013
Another beautifully written Father Anselm novel. I especially liked George the man who takes to the streets to escape his past. However I found Elisabeth less convincing as a character, I realize that her personality is compromised by her secret but I felt that the author is more successful with his male characters.
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on 2 October 2013
Having read one of the Farther Anselm novels by chance on my last long haul flight just had to buy some more.
Love the style of the writing and the subject matter. Realy good service, thanks.
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on 2 July 2013
So well thought through. It carries you away into a world which makes you forget the time and I always looked forward to when I could continue reading it. Most enjoyable.
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on 17 July 2014
William Broderick's novels are just so different to anything I have read before - and I have read extensively in this genre. A real pleasure to read all of them!
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