The Poison Garden – Alex Marwood
Alex Marwood is one of crime fiction’s brightest stars, best known for her acclaimed novels, The Wicked Girls and The Killer Next Door, which won the Edgar Award and the Macavity Award respectively. Certainly, Marwood has set her own standards high and her latest novel does not disappoint.
The Poison Garden is a fascinating exploration of a grey area of crime – cults. The reader is forced to answer some difficult questions: are its members victims or the perpetrators? Is there actually a crime being committed if such groups live in supposed harmony?
‘The Poison Garden’ is set in 2016. The novel opens with police discovering heaps of corpses at the former site of Plas Golau, following a tip off. Marwood hints at either a mass murder or suicide pact, perhaps inspired by the Jamestown revolutionary suicide of 1978.
The story is told from the point of view of several central characters, the first of whom is Romy, one of a small number of escapees who somehow managed to avert the mass death at her former community. Exactly how is as yet, left unsaid. Romy is young and pregnant, suddenly deposited out into an unfamiliar world.
Sarah is the unexpected aunt of Romy and a teacher at the local primary school, jaded and depressed by a recent relationship breakdown. When Sarah is asked to adopt two young children, Eden and Ilo, Romy’s younger siblings who managed to escape the tragic events at Plas Golau, a dark and shameful family history begins to unravel. Why did Sarah’s sister, Alison, Romy’s mother, leave to join Plas Golau? Why did Sarah’s late parents conceal Alison’s letters? Can Alison really be blamed? Sarah’s own family were part of a stringent religious congregation in Finborough with its own secrets.
The structure of the novel is non-linear. Chapters switch between two timemarkers: ‘After the End’, in 2016, and ‘Before the End’, allowing Marwood to show the reader what life was like in the cult. Lucien is the archetypal cult leader – exalted to a Godly status. Who amongst his many children will emerge as, the one?
Without wishing to give too much away, the novel is a triumph, a murder mystery on a massive scale. The need to answer the central question of how did the cult come to fall, made this a gripping read.
You can find Alex Marwood on Twitter – @AlexMarwood1