The summer of 1976 was the hottest in living memory. In the Botanical Gardens at Kew, a lost little girl, dizzied by the heat, thought she saw a woman lying dead on the ground. But when she opened her eyes, the woman had gone. Forty years later, Stella Darnell, the detective’s daughter, is investigating a chilling new case. What she uncovers will draw her into the obsessive world of botany, and towards an unsolved murder that has lain dormant for decades…
If you are looking for foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action – this isn’t it. Thomson takes her time in her slow-burn style, as we follow Stella and Jack in their daily routines. Stella runs the Clean Start cleaning company and Jack, who also drives an underground train, works part-time for her. They are linked by painful events in their past, which you can fully find out about by reading the first book in the series, The Detective’s Daughter – see my review here. While that will give you a deeper insight into what damaged them, Thomson is too accomplished to leave her readers adrift, so if you want to immerse yourself in this adventure then go for it. While this may all sound a bit grim, there are regular moments of humour throughout that leaven this story, as the vivid cast of characters bounce off the page.
The past and present is braided together, as an undiscovered murder committed decades ago continues to wreak havoc upon those caught in its malign web. We have a ringside seat as a young girl sees something beyond her comprehension and struggles to find an answer that makes it bearable for her to cope. Until as an adult, a similarly unexpected, horrific event forces her to face up to what happened all those years ago.
Thomson evokes the stifling heat of the summer of 1976 – those of us who lived through that year recall it vividly as day after day, the heatwave continued to swelter throughout June, July and August. Thomson’s world seeps into my head as her richly depicted world and layered, complex characters continue to spool through my inscape long after I’ve finally closed the book, as the psychological truth behind her characters’ actions reverberates through the plot. I enjoy the main protagonists, particularly Stella – but the real hero of this book is Stella’s father, who died in 2010. One way and another, most of the main characters are connected with the driven, workaholic detective Terry Darnell. This beautifully crafted, thoughtful murder mystery is all about assumptions and mistakes we make as we are busy doing and thinking about something else – and what the cost can be when we get it so wrong. The denouement is both shocking and satisfying, pulling together all the strands of a storyline that stretches back to the 1950s, while also revealing more about the main characters.
All in all, this is yet another unsettling, accomplished book by a writer at the top of her game and is highly recommended.