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by Martin Edwards
Allison and Busby, October 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0749082860

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Martin Edwards' THE CIPHER GARDEN is a dark, claustrophobic book which blew me away.

Set in the Lake District and featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and former Oxford historian Daniel Kind. Edwards manages the balancing act very nicely -- featuring enough of both them without feeling you've been short-changed.

Daniel and his journalist girlfriend Miranda have downsized with a vengeance and sold up their south homes and moved north. Daniel loves it and is rolling his sleeves up and working on the enigmatic garden of the title. Miranda, though, seems less settled, even though it was her idea, and is up and down to London on assignments.

Meanwhile, Hannah and her colleagues DS Nick Lowther, DC Linz Waller and retired Supt Les Bryant are a cold case team. They have an anonymous tip-off about the killer of gardener Warren Howe who was hacked to death some years ago with a scythe. Warren wasn't what you'd call a charmer, but had certainly done his rounds of the women in the village.

And here is where the book impresses. Edwards presents a small cast of inter-knit characters in a tiny village in the middle of a swelteringly hot English summer. As I started the book I worried that the action was going to be too slow, but Edwards in fact paces his plot impeccably.

And even when you think you've guessed character motivations, Edwards has several crafty twists secreted high up his sleeve. In the end the plot is fine and slotted neatly into place. But even better were the characters, particularly the unresolved attraction between Hannah and Daniel, both in slightly uncomfortable relationships, and linked by the fact Hannah worked with Daniel's policeman father. And then there's the bizarre behaviour from Nick who all along has seemed uncomfortable about reopening the murder case.

I shall be chasing down a copy of THE COFFIN TRAIL, the first in the series, with all speed. And I hope Edwards is scribbling frantically 'ere we speak with the next book -- there are so many loose ends to tie up!

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, December 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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