Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

First Sentence:  It was far from silent in the dark wood.
Gloria Harkness lives in a lonely, rundown house in order to be near the care home housing her son.  The building was once a school called Eden, but was closed due to a student’s suicide.  Or was it?  Gloria’s childhood friend, and son of the school’s founder, turns up asking for help as he is being stalked by one of the former students.  He is to meet her at the site of the suicide.  What they find leads Gloria on a path for the truth and personal risk.
McPherson has a wonderful voice.  She makes you feel as if you’re sitting in her kitchen with a cuppa, being told a story.  Her dialogue is well done and very natural—“Who’s Walter Scott?”  I pointed at the basket. “The dog.  Not the real Walter Scott, obviously.  For one, I don’t believe in ghosts, and for two, I prefer Stevenson.”  “Who?” said Stig.  “Writers,” I told him.
From very early on, a sense of tension is created—“There were footprints. … In the middle though, footprints criss-crossed, leading away from the door to the far side in front of the alcove.  There they were muddled and scraped about, and at one spot the floor was completely clear.  A square with no dust at all….”Why would she clean off that one slab and leave footprints everywhere else?”” he said. 
This is balanced by McPherson’s very evocative descriptions—“The quiet at Rough House had saved my sanity.  Except it wasn’t quiet at all:  it was swifts and tits and wrens… It was the wind streaming over the grass making it whisper… Sometimes, I thought I could hear the stars turning on in the evening and the sun sighing like an old lady when it set.”  Yes; McPherson is one of those special authors who both makes you pause and consider, and makes you wish to read passages aloud to others.
Gloria is a character with whom many may identify.  She’s not given to artifice and is very comfortable in her skin.  She’s the type of person one would want to know, and upon whose loyalty one could depend.  At the same time, it is a pleasure to have a character so realistic; one who becomes exhausted, and overwhelmed to the point of tears.  Her friend Stig is delightful.  No big, brave man is he, unless it’s in the kitchen.  It’s quite lovely to see a reversal of traditional roles.  Yet one may also find oneself questioning and a bit suspicious of him.  Miss Dunn, the owner of Rough House, Gloria’s landlady, and now living in the neighboring room to Gloria’s son, is a delightful character.  She is also the link to the story’s pagan mythology.
The story’s plot is extremely good.  Having Gloria learn about the same events from different perspectives increases, and amplifies, the suspense.  There’s a twist one definitely doesn’t see coming.
The Child Garden” is a very well done, engrossing mystery with great characters, told by an author whose voice makes one want to immediately read another of her books.

THE CHILD GARDEN (Myst-Gloria Harkness-Scotland-Contemp) – Ex
McPherson, Catriona – Standalone
Midnight Ink – Sept, 2015

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