A fifty-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life—with potentially fatal consequences—in this gripping standalone novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.
A magnificent house, vast formal gardens, a golden family that shaped California, and a colorful past filled with now-famous artists: the Gardener Estate was a twentieth-century Eden. And now, just as the Estate is preparing to move into a new future, restoration work on some of its art digs up a grim relic of the home’s past: a human skull, hidden away for decades.
Inspector Raquel Laing has her work cut out for her. Fifty years ago, the Estate’s young heir, Rob Gardener, turned his palatial home into a counterculture commune of peace, love, and equality. But that was also a time when serial killers preyed on innocents—monsters like The Highwayman, whose case has just surged back into the public eye.
Could the skull belong to one of his victims?
To Raquel—a woman who knows all about colorful pasts—the bones clearly seem linked to The Highwayman. But as she dives into the Estate’s archives to look for signs of his presence, what she unearths begins to take on a dark reality all of its own. Everything she finds keeps bringing her back to Rob Gardener himself. While he might be a gray-haired recluse now, back then he was a troubled young Vietnam vet whose girlfriend vanished after a midsummer festival at the Estate. But a lot of people seem to have disappeared from the Gardener Estate that summer when the commune mysteriously fell apart: a young woman, her child, and Rob’s brother, Fort.
The pressure is on, and Raquel needs to solve this case—before The Highwayman slips away, or another Gardener vanishes.
Often, writers get pigeonholed into a single series. Truly gifted authors are able to transcend a single series and create new stories that are completely different. Laurie R. King has been doing this for years with the Russell & Holmes, Stuyvesant & Grey, Kate Martinelli, and her standalone novels. This new offering, featuring neuro-divergent San Francisco police detective Raquel Laing is one I hope will turn into a series, because Laing deserves more stories!!!
King tells a story here that has roots in the robber baron era of the American West that spread into a 1970s commune, and all the way to a present day California mansion. The robber baron era plays a very small part here, essentially setting background for the 70s commune and present day mystery involving bones discovered beneath a massive statue on the grounds of the Gardener Mansion.
King blends the Gardener mystery with a serial killer who operated during the same time as the commune and is only now being investigated for his crimes while he approaches death. There’s a lot going on here – plenty of story threads that somehow all converge to a very satisfying ending. King evokes the naive, counterculture, freelove of the commune perfectly and brings those characters into the present time with sensitivity and care. But, it’s the character development of Detective Laing that shines here. She’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long time and I hope we see more of her in the future.
King is a consummate storyteller, and that skills shines through here.
Highly recommended for fans of mystery & suspense.
Publication Date: September 6, 2022
Published By: Random House Publishing Group; Ballantine, Bantam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy