A retired professor of botany turned amateur sleuth does a favor for a friend that entangles him in a series of murders.
Lawrence Kingston’s peaceful retirement is rudely interrupted by an unusual request from a colleague from Kew Gardens. Peter Mayhew, badly injured in a motorcycle accident, is laid up in Oxford. His only communications are rambling descriptions of a plant-hunting expedition. Asked to go listen for clues, Kingston identifies the expedition as a search for wild roses in China. When Mayhew is murdered in hospital, a request for aid from Thames Valley DI Sheffield and Lawrence’s own bump of curiosity land him in the midst of a dangerous case. Mayhew went to China in the company of five men—Julian Bell, Spenser Graves, David Jenkins, an American botanist and photographer Jeremy Lester—and several local guides. When Mayhew’s half sister Sally says the body in the morgue is not that of her brother, who was earlier reported to have fallen to his death during the expedition, the hunt is on to discover who the dead man is and why he was killed. As more of the expedition members succumb to unusual deaths, Kingston finds himself in a nightmarish update of Ten Little Indians.
The third in Eglin’s English Garden series (The Water Lily Cross, 2007, etc.) is chock full of fascinating information about historical plant hunters. But the complicated mystery is marred by a pedantic denouement.