A Child's Garden of Death (A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery #1) by Richard Forrest
Description: Lyon Wentworth's heart pounded as he looked in the shallow grave. Before his horrified eyes lay the moldering remains of a man, woman, and child - all brutally murdered. Who were they? Why had they been killed? And, after thirty long years, who cared? Lyon cared very much. The sight of the little girl still clutching her doll made him swear to find the truth if it was the last thing he ever did. And a corrupt powerful killer intended to make sure that it was. (from Goodreads)
Why I Picked This Book: I love books were people are trying to solve crimes that happened in the past and I've never read Forrest's books and since he is kind of classified as a "classic" mystery author I feel like I should.
My Impression: Going in I knew really nothing about this book or author. I knew the book was published in 1982 which is really too recent to qualify for "classic mystery" status but the premise looked good and the cover had that classic look.
Forrest dumps us into the story without much buildup. We start with Lyon, children's book author and long time good friend of the police chief looking into a grave containing the skeletal remains of 2 adults and a child - what's left of a family. The police chief, Rocco, doesn't quite know where to start with the investigation but knows Lyon was an intelligence officer in the Korean War and is good with details. Lyon is intelligent but not always flawless in his thinking. His primary hobby is hot air ballooning which is definitely a first for me! We do go up with Lyon a few times which I very much enjoyed. He and his wife are still dealing with the death of their young daughter but while that is used to explain Lyon's obsession with the case it never really takes over the book. Lyon's wife, Bea, is also a primary character. She is a state senator and definitely the grounded one in the marriage to balance out Lyon's at times impulsive dreamer status. I very much liked them both and liked how they worked together. At times they're a team and at times they're at odds but it felt very much like a real marriage.
The mystery is fascinating. Who are these people and how did they end up in this grave in an isolated area? The mystery unwinds little by little as more and more is discovered. There are a few missteps and a few times it feels like we're back to square one. Through Lyon's imaginings I really felt like I got to know this family and parts of it were just heartbreaking. It felt like the book was divided into 2 mysteries. The first being who are these people which takes up the bulk of the first part of the book and the 2nd part centers around the who put them there and why.
There were a few elements that I did find jarring. There's kind of an old fashioned air to the book with the writing style and characters. It's kind of got the feel of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh in the detachment of the narrating and just basic setting. However, every once in awhile there is strong language and there is one character whose dark secret is on the very sexually risque side. There aren't tons of details and the language isn't constant but against the backdrop it did pull me out of the story a little bit.
Overall, I enjoyed this mystery very much. I thought the mystery itself was well done and I really enjoyed getting to know the characters. Since this is a series I knew nothing about until this book I'm really looking forward to exploring it more with the next book!
Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Absolutely! I'm looking forward to spending more time with Lyon and Bea.
Would I Recommend this Book?: If you like classic style mysteries I think you'd enjoy this one. Just be prepared for a few unclassic style elements.