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BACK TO THE GARDEN
by Laurie R. King
Bantam, September 2022
336 pages
$28.00
ISBN: 0593496566


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

"The day had been going so well, until the bones turned up." Apart from a brief prologue, this wry statement opens the first entry in a new series that has loose ties to Laurie King's Kate Martinelli series. The bones in question are unearthed as a large sculpture by a notorious feminist artist is being carefully relocated in a famous garden estate, one belonging to a storied California family, converted by one its heirs into a commune in the 1970s and now a site where visitors can tour its renowned gardens.

So, whose bones are they? Apparently a body was hidden in the base of the sculpture just before the concrete was poured. It could have been one of the commune members, murdered at a music festival that marked the beginning of the end of the commune; many of its members departed without leaving word of their destinations. But Inspector Raquel Laing of San Francisco thinks it may be the work of a serial killer, active in the 1970s and with a history of hiding his victims under a layer of concrete. He's currently in a nearby hospital, dying of cancer, but using his final days to torment the detectives who banded together informally to track him down. For each victim the police can identify, he'll give up the name of one they don't know about.

Raquel has a habit of rubbing her superiors the wrong way. She was unable to pick up on social cues and her bluntness, superior intelligence, and raw honesty made her a pariah among her fellow officers, in spite of a stellar academic record and demonstrated ability to crack hard cases. As she deals with her dying suspect, she refines a technique she's developing to read minute clues in facial expressions and body language, a deep dive into making sense of the cues that don't come naturally to her.

As she works, she disentangles the relationships of commune members when the murder occurred something readers learn about in detail, in chapters devoted to the establishment and eventual abrupt demise of a seemingly successful social experiment. The fraught relationships among members of the wealthy family whose land and mansion became the commune's unlikely host are woven together through the past and present.

As usual, King's intelligence shines through as she builds the world of the commune and the dysfunctional family whose land it occupies. With Raquel Laing at the helm of a new series, fans of both the Kate Martinelli series and King's standalones have something to look forward to.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, August 2022

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