The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards

The Cipher Garden is the second in a series of mystery novels set in the Lake District written by Martin Edwards. They concern the historian Daniel Kind, who has relocated to the area, and DCI Hannah Scarlett, who used to work under Daniel’s father in the police force. Both are in relationships, but there is clearly an attraction between the two. In this book, Scarlett, who runs a cold case department, receives a note prompting her to investigate the murder of Warren Howe, a landscape gardener, murdered with his own scythe. In the meantime, Kind is trying to work out the message that was hidden in the design of his garden – the eponymous Cipher Garden.The opening sequence features the murder itself, and gives a clue for the readers a clue that the characters never get to hear – Howe’s final words are “I thought you were dead”. So does this bonus clue give the reader an unfair advantage over the book’s investigators?

I’m always a bit wary of psychological mysteries and to a certain extent, this is one, as a lot of the plot hinges on the behaviour of the characters once the murder is raked up again. Howe’s emotionally unstable daughter is the focus for part of the book, and while I initially just wanted to slap her, it is a credit to Edwards’ writing that I came to sympathise with her, making one event in the book extremely shocking. The will-they-won’t-they situation between Kind and Scarlett is still nascent in this book as they are both in reasonably stable relationships, but it, coupled with Kind’s sister staying with him, was surprisingly engrossing. Edwards, like Simon Brett in the Fethering series, knows how to write people that sound like real people.

I was all the more surprised that I thought I knew exactly where this was going, especially given the aforementioned bonus clue. In such a character-driven mystery novel, I’ve come to expect a dearth of surprises, but Edwards pulls off a smashing piece of misdirection and I was completely wrong-footed by the murderer.

It could be argued that the titular Cipher Garden is primarily there as an excuse for Kind to talk to some of the suspects, as that particular mystery is only a relatively minor part of the book, but as with all good reads, I found myself not having a problem with this.

I’d definitely recommend this one – extremely well-written and an absolute treat. I’ll be keeping an eye out for The Arsenic Labyrinth, the next in the series.


Still in print, so all good bookshops everywhere.


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