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Margaret von Klemperer reviews The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

Originally published in The Witness

The Child GardenThe Child Garden has been published with puffs from the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves – all prominent and excellent members of the school of Scottish noir. Maybe they are pleased to welcome another practitioner into their midst, even though Catriona McPherson currently lives in California.

Her novel starts well, with a short, creepy scene of an incident in a remote wood in 1985. Fast forward to the present, and Gloria, the divorced mother of a terminally ill teenager is living in a run-down farmhouse, close to the woods which surround a larger, old house, now a care home where her son lives, but once and briefly a dubious school called Eden, which offered a remarkably alternative education. It was a short lived venture, because after one pupil died, parents, however hippyish, inevitably removed their children.

However, it seems that the former pupils, now in their forties, are dying off at quite a rate. Suicide is the favoured verdict, and so far, no-one seems to have joined the dots that show how connected they are. Then, one dark and stormy night, Stig, an old friend of Gloria’s and a former Eden pupil, turns up at her door. He is afraid that he is being stalked by another of his former classmates … who then turns up dead in the care home grounds in a way that is designed to implicate him. Her mad fantasy, or a chance for someone to kill two birds with one stone? Gloria and Stig begin to investigate.

McPherson creates plenty of red herrings – a few too many, perhaps – and a web of intrigue and connection. But I began to have an inkling of where we were going a little too soon, and the whole thing was a little too convoluted to be entirely believable. It is an enjoyable enough read to while away a wet afternoon, but for those who want their entertainment noir, this one is a little palid.

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