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Death in the Garden: Elizabeth Ironside

Today I have an adult mystery review for you. Death in the Garden by Elizabeth Ironside is an unusual blending of historical mystery and modern-day novel. It begins with a brief Part I, in which Diana Pollexfen writes of her feelings on being found not guilty of the murder of her husband, George. Part II describes the 1925 weekend the culminates in Diana's husband's death, from the shifting perspective of various house party attendees. Part III moves forward sixty years to the perspective of Helena, Diana's thirty-year-old grand-niece and heir, upon Diana's death.

As she goes through her beloved aunt's possessions, Helena finds Diana's diaries, and learns for the first time about the murder of George Pollexfen. Before she can accept her inheritance, Helena feels compelled to learn the truth about whether or not Diana murdered George. The remainder of the book details Helena's investigation, and includes various extracts from letters and diaries and people's memories, as well as events in Helena's modern-day life. The book culminates with resolution of the mystery, and of some issues in Helena's own life.

I found this book to be a cross between a post WWI British country estate novel (like the work of D. E. Stevenson) and a spare, modern-day examination of people's ordinary lives (like the work of Anita Brookner), with the tiniest hint of the supernatural thrown in. The mystery was almost incidental, paling in comparison to the examination of individual characters and motives. Both the historical and modern portions of the book have a strong and authentic British flavor.

Elizabeth Ironside is the pseudonym of Lady Catherine Manning, wife of the British Ambassador to the U.S. Death in the Garden was shortlisted for Britain's CWA Silver Dagger for Best Mystery of 1995. The U.S. edition was published in 2005.

If you enjoyed Jacqueline Winspeare's Maisie Dobbs books you are likely to also enjoy Death in the Garden. I highly recommend this book to people who enjoy historical novels, especially to those interested in the post-World-War I era in England. I also recommend it to those who prefer their mysteries to be focused on character and human nature, rather than on fast-paced action.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.