Monday, September 14, 2015

DEATH IN THE GARDEN by Elizabeth Ironside

A rawther genteel book cover belies a novel full of vintage suspicions and modern-day drama.

In 1925, beautiful Diana Pollexfen is celebrating her 30th birthday with a group of bohemian friends at the country house owned by her wealthy husband George, who himself is a bit of a stick in the mud who disapproves of her friends and of his wife's attempts at independence. Diana is actually a very talented photographer, and her friends number some writers and artists.

In the midst of all the Bright Young Things having fun, there's tension in the air as George wants Diana to give up photography once and for all and be a good submissive wife. But at the end of the long weekend party, George is found dead in the garden, poisoned by Diana's photography chemicals.

Fast-forward 60 years. Helena Fox is turning 30 with little fanfare. A lawyer in a London firm, she's having an unsatisfying affair with a married MP and desires a break from it all. She's thinking of going to visit her great-aunt Fox, only to learn that her beloved great-aunt, who had practically raised her, has died. Helena goes to her house in Rutland and starts to attend to the formalities...and makes some surprising discoveries. Her great-aunt had once been a famous photographer (under another name) and had been acquitted of murder! Examining her great-aunt's diaries, she gets a sense of guilt but is unable to get any resolution to the problem. So, she starts off trying to piece together the remaining bits to see if she can find out the real story....

So what we have is a story taking place in two timelines, with varying points of view involved. It's a good story overall, although I was a bit disappointed in the ending. However, it's got some ponderings about women's roles in society in the different eras, and how they can be shockingly similar. The 20's milieu is beautifully described and laid out before us, frankly presented although not entirely glamorized. (I mean, come on, any representation of the wealthy Bright Young Things of the Roaring 20s is going to be somewhat glamorous.) The language is lovely and the plot moves along from one Rashomon-style story to another, until the Truth is revealed.

A very pleasant read, and worth checking out.

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