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Mark Mills
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The Savage Garden
hardback
355 pages
A remarkable novel set in the Tuscan hills; the story of two murders, four hundred years apart-and the ties that bind them together..

Adam Banting, a somewhat aimless young scholar at Cambridge University, is called to his professor's office one afternoon and assigned a special summer project: to write a scholarly monograph about a famous garden built in the 1500s. Dedicated to the memory of Signor Docci's dead wife, the garden is a mysterious world of statues, grottoes, meandering rills, and classical inscriptions. But during his three-week sojourn at the villa, Adam comes to suspect that clues to a murder are buried in the strange iconography of the garden: the long-dead Signor Docci most likely killed his wife and filled her memorial garden with pointers as to both the method and the motive of his crime.

As the mystery of the garden unfolds, Adam finds himself drawn into a parallel intrigue. Through his evolving relationship with the lady of the house - the ailing, seventy-something Signora Docci - he finds clues to yet another possible murder, this one much more recent. The signora's eldest son was shot by Nazi officers on the third floor of the villa, and her husband, now dead, insisted that the area be sealed and preserved forever. Like the garden, the third-floor rooms are frozen in time. Delving into his subject, Adam begins to suspect that his summer project might be a setup. Is he really just the naive student, stumbling upon clues, or is Signora Docci using him to discover for herself the true meaning of the villa's murderous past?

Very nicely written thriller which will certainly keep you turning over those pages, this is definetely one worth reading

Recommended!
9/10
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Ilona van Mills
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Sugarmilk Falls
hardcover
360 pages
A Novel by a Dutch writer about my favourite country, Canada; that can't go wrong I thought. The novel starts awkwardly, with the cumbersome framing device of an anonymous visitor joining a small group huddled around a cabin fire one night, asking questions about the town's secrets. Van Mil prefers skipping back and forth to writing chronological narrative, and it takes her a good 100 pages before she into her real story: that of Mathieu Souris, the priest, and Marina Grochowska, the schoolteacher. True to his name, which in French means "mouse," Souris is a man easily cowed; Grochowska, a Holocaust survivor, is more than a match for him. They fall in love in a postwar Paris café, where she's waitressing to keep herself from starving and he's wandering to fill his last days in the army.

Mathieu falls head over army boots for Marina's strange blend of fragility and toughness, and he proposes marriage within a few days. But she has too many secrets that she won't share with him, and he had spent his youth planning to go into the priesthood, that safe haven for secrets. So he loses her, or he abandons her -- the narrative is never quite clear. Years later, though, she turns up in Sugarmilk Falls, the newly hired town schoolteacher. She falls in love with a local trapper, Zack Guillem, who accepts her for who she is, and Souris is eaten up with jealousy. And then one day she is found dead, and the trapper vanishes.

Supposedly, nobody knows what really happened. But of course, everyone in town, listening in on the party phone lines, knows a little bit, and a handful of people know a lot. Van Mil gradually hones in on a few key players -- Souris, Grochowska, Guillem and Grand'mère Osweken, an Ojibwa medicine woman -- whose lives crisscross in threads of love, jealousy, land arguments, money and gambling. It's these people who hide at the heart of this novel, and beneath van Mil's long list of old-fashioned characters and lyrical evocations of the harsh land, they ground the story in genuine human desire.

After a slow and rather boring start the novel gets going a little, evolving slowly into a intruiging tale about greed, love, desire and revenge. And then it comes to a rather abrupt ending.. Not by far as good as it could have been!
4/10
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Running Apache