Thursday, March 8, 2018

"The Gardens of the Dead" by William Brodrick

A notable high court judge walks to a flea market-type location near Regent’s Canal in London. She has a purpose in mind – the visit the table of one Graham Riley. Minutes afterward, with a purchase of old spoons, she is sitting in her car, frantically making a phone call. And then she dies.

The dead woman is Elizabeth Glendinning, a former partner in law chambers with Father Anselm. Anselm is now a monk in the Gilbertine Order, who follow a rule similar to that of St. Benedict. When he learns of Elizabeth’s death, he knows he’s been left a key to a security box, a key given to him by his former law partner and to be used only if she dies.

Anselm is still haunted by the last case they worked on together, and his last case before joining the order. He and Elizabeth were defending a man charged with procurement of teenaged girls for prostitution. A single question by Anselm asked of the prosecution’s chief witness caused the witness to leave the courtroom, the case to collapse, and the defendant to be freed. The defendant was Graham Riley.

Elizabeth’s son, Nicholas, a doctor in Australia, flies home for his mother’s funeral. He finds the security box key as well and gets to the box before Anselm. What’s inside is the transcript of the Graham Riley trial. But why would his mother be concerned with a trial that happened 10 years earlier?

The Gardens of the Dead, first published in 2006, is the second Father Anselm mystery by British-Canadian author William Brodrick. It’s not so much a “whodunit” as it is a “what is going on here” and “nothing is what it appears to be” story. In that sense, it is similar to the first Father Anselm mystery, The 6th Lamentation, in which what appears to be a story about collaboration with the Nazis and war crimes turns out to be something quite different.

William Brodrick
This second mystery involves the full unraveling of the story of Elizabeth, Graham Riley, and George Bradshaw, the witness who walked out of court. And that unraveling will change everyone involved, including Anselm and Nicholas. The story moves from Anselm’s investigation, Nicholas’s research on his own, and Bradshaw, who has spent the last five years homeless but is the pivot in whatever it was that Elizabeth was up to.

In his own life Brodrick reverses the story of Father Anselm. He was a friar in the Augustine order before he became a barrister and a writer. He’s written eight of the Father Anselm mysteries, with The Whispered Name winning the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2009. He lives in France. (And the Gilbertine Order was a real order of monks, but was disbanded by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.)

The Gardens of the Dead is a complex mystery, one that requires close reading. But when the answers finally come, the reader feels just as changed as the characters.


Top photograph: Part of Lincoln’s Inn, where Elizabeth and Anselm were members of law chambers in The Gardens of the Dead. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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