Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Quick Look at Anthony Eglin

After a wild week getting my first bifocals and being looked over by an ophthalmologist (yup, glaucoma all right, and I'm on two different eye drops, one in the morning and one at night), and hurricane Hannah passing through yesterday (albeit rather unimpressively), I'm finally relaxing on Sunday night with a glass of a sprightly Gascon white by the laptop, Bartok on the stereo, and windows open to the buzz of crickets outside.

I don't garden. It's hard, having a small urban apartment, to garden, and even if I had a house, would I? I don't know. I slaved away quite a bit in my parents' garden, taking care of vegetables I didn't eat (I still abhor okra and bell peppers) or flowers I didn't care about (for a while, my mother had a passion for gloriosa daisies, a flower I found quite unattractive and still do). I do enjoy strolling through other gardens locally, like lovely National Arboretum, or Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, or nearby Brookside Gardens. A few years ago a friend and I had a great time visiting Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and I keep meaning to go back at some point. I'm enchanted with the the idea of a garden, but I'm not sure I want all the work that goes with it. And currently there's no way in hell I could afford a gardener, even if I had the space.

However, gardens are fun to visit, and they can offer some good plots. Not long ago, I stumbled on the mysteries of Anthony Eglin, and wanted to talk a little about them.

Eglin's first book, THE BLUE ROSE, was an effective debut. A young couple buys an old house and begins to reconstruct the overgrown garden behind it, and in doing so, make an amazing discovery in a remote corner: a perfect blue rose. Believed to be an impossibility (and from everything I've been able to find out, it seems to be biologically impossible), this discovery could mean millions. Calling in botanist Lawrence Kingston (Eglin's detective), they soon find themselves up to their necks in danger as competing horticultural concerns start a bidding war for the plant. It seems almost absurd, really, but when you really think about it, a perfect blue rose would mean billions of dollars to the person distributing it, and it would be a gold mine for any corporation.

However, an element of the Gothic creeps in. We've already had a little, with the old house and the overgrown garden, but there's also the fact that many people who come into contact with the rose die mysteriously. Is it cursed? Or is there another force at work? The situation is actually fairly horrific.

Eglin's second novel, THE LOST GARDENS, actually has a similar setup. A young American woman inherits (mysteriously) an English manor home, with a huge and wildly overgrown garden. And while it's being cleared, a Discovery is made. Only this time it's a tiny chapel with what appears to be a medieval healing well...but in the well there's a skeleton of much more recent vintage.

Kingston, brought in to help with the reconstruction of the manor's gardens, investigates both the mystery behind the skeleton, as well as the deaths of several people connected to the manor, and the mystery of why the young lady inherited the manor in the first place. Again, there's a bit of the Gothic here, as the manor is built on the site of a medieval monastery, and when the catacombs are finally accessed, secrets are revealed...

Eglin's books are hardly the greatest things around but they're quite readable and a good way to while away a rainy afternoon. Kingston is a fun character and the elements of horror and the Gothic keep the "cozy" elements of the novels from being too twee. Eglin has a bit of a tendency to throw in lectures about botany and gardening but they're not too obtrusive; I've certainly seen worse in other authors (coughDennisWheatleycough). If, like me, you're intrigued by overgrown gardens and the mysteries that may be hid within, you may enjoy these books.

There's two more books, THE WATER LILY CROSS and the upcoming THE TRAIL OF THE WILD ROSE, which I have yet to check out. A bit more info can be found in Anthony Eglin's English Garden.

What else have I been up to? Working, for one. Getting together with friends, for another. Drinking is always an activity. My good friend Jonathan is the principal double-bass with the Washington Sinfonietta, which had an all-Beethoven concert last night, playing lesser-known works by Ludwig; the "King Stephen" overture, the Piano Concerto #4, and the Fourth Symphony. If you're in the DC area and like classical music, check 'em out, they're an excellent example of how good community orchestras can be. And their tickets are dirt cheap.

Until next time, then...

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