Ellery Adams’ newest novel, Murder in the Secret Garden, is the answer to the question of how to top perfection. Originally not a particular fan of the Book Retreat Mystery series, I was won over during my second reading of the first two books. I approached this newest book with eagerness and found myself blown away by the way the quality of the writing, which just keeps getting better. Noted for her rounded characters, Adams also explores the growth in their personal lives throughout her different series (the other two I’ve read are Books by the Bay and Hope Street Church Mysteries, both of which are reviewed on this site), and I appreciated being able to see the growth of the author along with the growth of her characters.
After hosting two highly eventful conventions, Jane Steward, manager and Guardian of Storyton Hall, looks forward to a peaceful convention of the Medieval Herbalist Society. After all, what problems could possibly come from a group devoted to such esoteric knowledge? Jane is then reminded that this is a group with a knowledge of poisons, both common and obscure. In fact, the most famous member has earned the nickname “The Poison Princess” for her fascination with all substances lethal. Sure enough, Jane soon discovers the body of a Medieval Herbalist in the river, and she has died of poison, not drowning. Even though the woman did not die at Storyton Hall, Jane feels she owes it to the hall to investigate, along with the Fins, highly trained men who have sworn an oath to protect Storyton and its “8th wonder of the world,” a secret trove of priceless books.
The mystery plot in this book is much stronger than in the previous two books. It takes multiple angles of exploration, and though Jane and the Fins assume the timing of the murders and theft tie them together, they see no link and must investigate them as potentially separate crimes, giving new avenues of possible solutions.
What I especially enjoyed was the mingling of the mystery with the personal lives of the characters, each of whom is drawn with plenty of detail but also opens up slowly to the readers over the course of the book, like the gradual blooming of a flower. This suits this book in particular, since it revolves around the world of gardens and herbs. As the layers get revealed, we see that each person has both a good and a bad side, and everyone has something from her or his life to hide. The solutions to the mysteries depend upon understanding the person beneath the outer shell.
Murder in the Secret Garden is more than just a mystery though. For one thing, it is also a romance between Jane and the enigmatic Edwin Alcott, who has returned from his travels. His treatment of Jane helps to transport the readers to another time and place, for he pledges himself to her as a knight to his lady and behaves with gallantry, even talking the courtly language of the days of King Arthur to her. But can Jane trust him after his disappearance for months without communicating with her at all? I was also happy to see more time devoted to my favorite characters, Jane’s impish but delightful 7-year-old twin boys, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The boys bring life to all around them and have tremendous imaginations, something developed from their frequent exposure to good books. In this book, they are excited about Harry Potter, as Jane plays the books on CD for them all to enjoy together after dinner each night. They get in trouble during Sunday school because one turns the sheep he is supposed to be making into the 3-headed dog from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
The audio version continues to be read by Johanna Parker, whose warm voice is well-suited to the book.
I could go on and on to rave about this book, but instead, I’m going to go start listening to the first book in one of Ellery Adams’s other series. Needless to say, Murder in the Secret Garden gets five stars from me!
Murder in the Secret Garden by Ellery Adams is now available. To order from Amazon click here.