The Savage Garden

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am

The Savage Garden

by Mark Mills

Harper, HK$132

Britain's answer to Oprah Winfrey, Richard & Judy, include The Savage Garden among their 10 summer reads, and with good reason. Set in Tuscany in 1958, the murder mystery sees Cambridge art history student Adam Strickland arriving at the Villa Docci to do research on its 16th-century garden. Lovely as the place is, however, the improbable sleuth senses that something is amiss. It's not just the presence of statues of mythological characters Hyacinth, Narcissus and Adonis that offer clues about the garden's murderous past: all three died during their youth and were turned into flowers. Strickland also finds the Latin inscriptions troubling, and turns to Dante's Inferno to decipher their meaning. Understanding the bloody logic behind the 400-year-old garden is just part of the mystery. Another, more recent, murder may have been committed, and unearthing clues to this crime may endanger the protagonist. Distracting him from the villa's past curses is Antonella, granddaughter of the villa's enigmatic aristocrat Signora Docci. Although Mark Mills takes liberties with the plot to make the story work, his stylish writing diverts attention from the implausible. Readers are also fed generous descriptions of Italy and its landscapes and art.