Book review: 'The Secret Gardener'

Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 9:48am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Kalpana Swaminathan's The Secret Gardener begins with a piece of human bone surfacing at 24 Patwardhan Cross. This address turns out to be the last thing a dying gigolo sputters. Private eye Lalli is the one who pieces the random pieces of this case together to create the portrait of a terrible murderer.

The Secret Gardener
Kalpana Swaminathan
Penguin
266 pages
RS299

Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Secret Gardener begins with a piece of human bone surfacing at 24 Patwardhan Cross. This address turns out to be the last thing a dying gigolo sputters. Private eye Lalli is the one who pieces the random pieces of this case together to create the portrait of a terrible murderer.

The Secret Gardener has all the staples of a good murder mystery. Bodies drop dead. Bodily remains keep popping up. There are red herrings and other fishy incidents. Added to this intrigue are grandparents from hell who think scorching a boy with an iron is discipline. There’s also a withered but well-manicured finger that pops up, but who is it pointing at?

Unfortunately, despite all this, The Secret Gardener doesn’t hold the reader’s attention. The sidekick-narrator’s storytelling becomes a distraction from the actual decoding of the clues, which Lalli mostly does without witnesses present. The other problem is the who in this whodunit. The murderer could have been a superb opponent for Lalli had the crimes been in the present. Instead, they’re in the past, so discovering the killer is more of an intellectual challenge than a compulsion.

The climax for this reviewer was when the terrorised boy is rescued, rather than when Lalli stages the traditional reveal at the end. The Secret Gardener is a decent companion for a longish journey, but once you’re home, you’ll be itching to read one of the juicier adventures of Sherlock Holmes to make up for the blandness of Lalli’s latest case.


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