Monday, June 29, 2009

A Review: The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

Hardcover: 324 pages
Language: English
Publisher: Putnam Pub Group May 2007
ISBN-10: 0399153535
ISBN-13: 9780399153532

This story by British author, Mark Mills, follows Cambridge student Adam Strickland to the Tuscan hills of Italy in the summer of 1958. Adam is a rather lazy young man whose professor asks him to travel to Villa Docci to solve the mystery of its garden. The garden, created 400 hundred years before by the original owner of the villa, was dedicated to his wife, the lovely Flora. Relying heavily on the classic masterpiece, Dante's Inferno, Adam works diligently to solve the mystery of the garden. As he works he also discovers the truth about two murders, committed 400 years apart, and that the current resident of the villa, 70 year old Signora Docci, has a secret of her own.

Of course, in one of the most romantic countries on earth, there must be a love interest for Adam, who happens to be Signora Docci's beautiful granddaughter, Antonella.

The plot is well thought out and the characters have depth and believability. There is just the right amount of Italian history and culture to provide interest, while not weighing down the story in unnecessary minutia. The ending is satisfying, seeing justice served at last.

Synopsis (from the author's website)

A beautiful Tuscan villa, a mysterious garden, two hidden murders - one from the 16th century, one from the twentieth - and a family driven by dark secrets, combine in this evocative, intriguing mystery set in post-War Italy. In 1958, Adam Strickland, a young Cambridge scholar, travels to the Villa Docci in Tuscany to study a sixteenth-century garden. Designed and laid out by a grieving husband to the memory of his dead wife, it is a mysterious world of statues, grottoes, meandering rills and classical inscriptions. But tragedy has hit the Docci family more recently. The German occupation during World War 2 had a devastating impact on them, and the tensions between collaborators and partisans were played out within their own tight circle. Adam is fascinated by the Doccis and increasingly aware that there are dangerous secrets hidden within the family domain. The garden itself starts to exercise a powerful influence over his imagination, its iconography seeming to point to some deeper, darker truth than was first apparent. And what really lay behind a killing at the villa towards the end of the war? Past and present, love and intrigue, intertwine in an evocative mystery which vividly captures the experience of an innocent abroad in the uncertain world of post-War Italy.

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