Tuesday, September 6, 2022

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

Back to the Garden

Laurie R. King
Publication: Bantam (September 6, 2022)

Description: A fifty-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life—with potentially fatal consequences—in this gripping standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

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.

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 Thoughts: This dual timeline mystery introduces Inspector Raquel Liang. Her mentor is Al Hawkins. Raquel has a problem with interpersonal communication and decoding visual cues which doesn't make her popular with her fellow cops. Under Al's tutelage, Raquel studies how to "learn to listen" and devises her own techniques from a variety of specialists. She becomes such an expert on body language and microexpressions that her colleagues start to call her Sherlock. 

Her skills help her move up quickly from patrol to investigations but don't gain her acceptance from her colleagues as quickly. After some sort of police scandal that leaves her with a bad knee, Raquel finds herself working cold cases who Al. Their current project has to do with a serial killer nicknamed The Highwayman who is responsible for a series of murders on young blonds that started in the 1970s.

Identified by DNA taken from his victims and a DNA test taken by his daughter, the killer is found and arrested. But he's dying of cancer and wanting to play games with the cops. It is up to Raquel and a group of retired cold case cops to get him to identify his victims before he dies.

Meanwhile, some renovations are being undertaken at the Gardener Estate including the moving of a statue created by the famous, or maybe infamous, Gaddo. When the statue is lifted, bones are discovered. Raquel is working on the assumption that these bones are those of another of the Highwayman's victims. 

As Raquel investigates at the Gardener Estate, she learns of its complicated history. This is where the flashbacks come into the story as we see what happened at the estate from its building to its history as a commune in the 1970s. 

This was an engaging mystery with a not-so-long ago but very different time period. It's infused with details from the 1970s. Raquel is an intriguing character who is filled with secrets. Barely any of them are revealed in this story making me really want more about her so that I can learn more of her story. 

Favorite Quote:
"How does a person decide what's right?" she asked.

Jen, about to take a sip from her cup, paused. "What is this about?"

"Oh, one of those things that's sucking my mind in."

"To do with your job."

"Yes. Although it won't stop there."
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

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