The Mantrap Garden

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Celia Grant, whose business is horticulture and whose hobby is detection, is pressed into reluctant service as a trustee for the famous gardens at Monk’s Mead. Her curiosity is piqued by evidence of willful destruction to the plantings, purportedly connected with the unexplained death of Mrs. Mortlock, elderly mother of Lady Lindsay, who presently occupies Monk’s Mead with her husband Sir Julian, their son Adam, and Adam’s rebellious daughter Tessa.

Barbara Seymour, another recently appointed trustee, is rumored to be the biological mother of Adam Lindsay. As village gossip has it, Adam was sired by Lady Lindsay’s brother Anthony, a young poet who died in World War II. Aided by the head gardener of her local nursery business, Grant combines forces with Adam and Tessa to investigate the damage to the gardens and the true story of Anthony Mortlock, whose past has been cosmeticized by an authorized biography.

Grant’s inquiries lead her to Sotheby’s Auction House, where manuscripts of three unacknowledged Mortlock poems are on display. The contents call Barbara Seymour’s published memories of her wartime romance into serious question; another reference recalls literary speculation about the Dark Lady of William Shakespeare’s SONNETS.

Grant then interviews people who worked with Mortlock on top-secret code-breaking operations in 1941. Circumstances are further complicated by the murder of a French tourist at Monk’s Mead. Finally, Scotland Yard is enlisted to resolve events that threaten increasing violence.

Sherwood’s mystery pleasantly combines the familiar figure of a shy, widowed British amateur sleuth with secondary characters whose language and behavior are more boisterous. Celia Grant’s profession is amusingly underlined with observations about the gardens at Monk’s Mead, said to have been designed by the famous botanist Gertrude Jekyll, whose somewhat arch comments are footnoted as if to explain the plants and landscaping.