“The Child Garden” of the title has a twofold meaning. It alludes to the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson in “The Child’s Garden of Verses” and also to the garden of Eden Boarding School, near Galloway, Scotland.
The protagonist of “The child garden” is Gloria Harkness. Though only forty years of age, she has led a tragic life. She wouldn’t agree. Divorced and the mother of a severely disabled fifteen year old boy, Gloria nevertheless feels lucky to have him in her life. Her son Nicky suffers from a neuro-degenerative disease called PKAN. He lives in a long-term facility. In order to afford the fees associated with his care, Gloria has moved into the house next door to the home. She lives there rent free in exchange for taking care of the house and pets, and daily visiting the owner, Miss Drumm, who also resides in the care home in an adjoining room to Nicky. Oh… and another duty she is to carry out…. rocking the ancient stone in the garden which folklore and Miss Drumm declares is said to house the Devil himself. Gloria, being the sensible sort, doesn’t believe in the legends, but she obligingly rocks the stone twice a day to humour the old lady.
Her lonely routine seldom varies. By day she works as a registrar in the nearby town of Dalry. Her evenings are spent in the care home chatting with Miss Drumm and reading to her son. This is her only social life – except that which she finds between the pages of books.
Her unvaried routine is shattered when Stephen “Stig” Tarrant, a school friend, turns up on her doorstep saying he’s being stalked. He has arranged to have a meeting with his stalker, April Cowan, on the grounds of the former school – now nursing home. He seems apprehensive, so Gloria suggests that she accompany him. This simple act will forever change both their lives and will eventually shed light on a twenty year old mystery.
On May Day, twenty years ago the students of Eden School spent the night out of doors. In the morning one of them was dead. The resulting scandal caused the headmaster to be fired and the school closed down. The secrecy and lies surrounding this event has shadowed the lives of all those who were there. Stig and April were two of those children. Gloria, who has access to records at her work – delves into the other students who were there that fateful night. To her horror, she discovers that many of the students have committed suicide, and even more close to home… her ex-husband was one of those children as well!
The novel which expounds on the ancient superstitions and folklore of Scotland, portrays how evil blamed on otherworldly causes has, more often than not, a very human source.
An atmospheric thriller, with well-rounded characters and a compelling mystery ensured that this novel kept my attention throughout. I very much enjoyed the references to folklore, with references to Devil’s bridges and Devil’s stones. My only complaint is that at certain places in the plot I felt that Gloria leaps to conclusions rather too quickly.
Last year I read and reviewed “The day she died” by Catriona McPherson. I really enjoyed it and it led me to read more by her. She is now one of my personal favorite authors.
Catriona McPherson was born in Edinburgh and lived there, in Ayrshire, in Dumfriesshire and in Galloway before moving to California in 2010. She has a PhD in linguistics from Edinburgh University. She is the author of the Dandy Gilver historical mystery series as well as several stand-alone thrillers.