BookBrowse Reviews The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

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The Savage Garden

by Mark Mills

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills X
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2008, 352 pages

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A novel of two murders, four hundred years apart - and the ties that bind them together, set in the Tuscan hills

Like many of its ilk The Savage Garden combines two mysteries in one, one ancient and one modern. It's late Spring 1958; Adam Banting, an intelligent but callow history of art student, has yet to choose a thesis subject for his final exam the following year, so is delighted to take up his professor's suggestion that he spend part of his summer researching a Renaissance villa in Tuscany, which can then form the basis of his thesis. Shortly after, Adam sets off for a summer that (we know from the prologue) will change him forever.

Mills embroiders themes of passion, survival and divided family loyalties into a plot as deft and as civilized as the setting. The Savage Garden is easily on a par with other recent high brow literary thrillers such as The Historian and The Book of Air and Shadows, and a cut above the likes of The Rule of Four. Long periods of slow intellectual discovery and background setting are countered by some decent action late in the game and the occasional, not too explicit, sexual encounter.

The only significant misstep, from this reviewer's point of view, is the little joke that Mills plays with the reader by opening the first pages of The Savage Garden with an entirely different story to the one that follows. The reader soon discovers that he or she has been reading the opening lines from the novel that Adam's soon to be ex-girlfriend is writing. The only catch is that this reviewer found herself hooked by this lightweight but intriguing tale of inebriated vicars, village fêtes, giant marrows and espionage, and thus found the first few chapters of the main story a little slow-going until the plot built up steam!

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2007, and has been updated for the June 2008 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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