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Gardens of The Dead
on 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.