Summary and book reviews of The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

The Savage Garden

by Mark Mills

The Savage Garden
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2008, 352 pages

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Book Summary

The story of two murders, four hundred years apart - and the ties that bind them together.

From the author of the acclaimed national bestseller Amagansett comes an even more 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?

1

He was known, primarily, for his marrows.

This made him a figure of considerable suspicion to the ladies of the Horticultural Society, who, until his arrival on the scene, had vied quite happily amongst themselves for the most coveted award in the vegetable class at their annual show. The fact that he was a newcomer to the village no doubt fueled their resentments; that he lived alone with a “housekeeper” some years younger than himself, a woman whose cast of countenance could only be described as “Oriental,” permitted them to bury the pain of defeat in malicious gossip.

That first year he carried off the prize, I can recall Mrs. Meade and her cronies huddled together at the back of the marquee, like cows before a gathering storm. I can also remember the vicar, somewhat the worse for wear after an enthusiastic sampling of the cider entries, handing down his verdict on the marrow category. With an air of almost lascivious relish, he declared ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
The summer of 1958 begins inauspiciously for art student Adam Strickland. Nearing the end of his university studies, he is dumped by his girlfriend for being “somewhere between ‘boring’ and ‘bland’” and is pressured by his father to begin a career in insurance. To make matters worse, the deadline for his thesis paper is looming, the topic of which has gone through several unpromising incarnations. On this last issue, Adam’s professor, Crispin Leonard, offers a solution: an investigation of the Renaissance-era garden at the Tuscan villa of his old friend Signora Docci. Accepting the assignment, Adam departs for Italy with little hint of what is to come, save for Professor ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Mills embroiders themes of passion, survival and divided family loyalties into a plot as deft and as civilized as the setting.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (495 words).

Media Reviews

Booklist - Bill Ott

Adam is a bit too callow to hold our attention the way the robust Basque did in Amagansett, but there is plenty here to captivate those who like high culture mixed with high crime

Library Journal

Another deftly plotted and suspenseful tale full of entertaining characters and set in a marvelously sensual locale. Readers who enjoyed his first book will not be disappointed. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

A murder puzzle wrapped around a literary deconstruction grounded in a perceptive study of seduction and survival. Sublime.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This engrossing literary novel...deserves to be a bestseller.

The Independent - Barry Forshaw

So iridescent is the prose that one is prepared to forgive the odd mélange of books that jostle behind the narrative .... But Mills is a skilful writer, and combines all of these disparate strands into a striking tapestry.

The Guardian - Laura Wilson

Mills weaves together an intriguing mixture of love, loss and divided loyalties, making The Savage Garden just as fascinating as his magnificent first novel, The Whaleboat House. BookBrowse Note: The Whaleboat House was the UK title of Mills' first novel, published first in the USA as Amagansett.

Reader Reviews

Kim

Wow! Everything a mystery should be
I picked up Savage Garden based on the reviews here on BookBrowse, and I'm delighted that I did. This is an uncommon and exceptional mystery novel. It's a bit different in that there really isn't any question as to who murdered whom. The book ...   Read More

Liz M.

The Savage Garden
I loved this book, I couldn't put it down. It was a mystery and a love story taking place in Italy. I highly recommend it.

Kimberley

review
I thought it was very dull and boring. Adam almost bore me to tears! Along with every other character in this book. I was always waiting for something more exciting to happen, but it never did.

Anno

Savage Garden
I was really enjoying the book till about halfway through then I just wanted it to move on the pace was so slow, it just got boring. I had guessed the killer early on and really wanted to be proved wrong as it was predictable. After reading the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mark Mills is a novelist and screenwriter whose credits include the screenplay for The Reckoning, which he adapted from Barry Unsworth's novel Morality Play. His first novel, Amagansett, set in the small Long Island town of the same name in 1947, was published in the USA in 2004. In some countries, including the UK, it is titled The Whaleboat House. Described by one reviewer as Snow Falling on Cedars meets The Shipping News, Amagansett won the Crime Writer's of America John Creasey ...

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