IN HER GARDEN by Jon Godden

IN HER GARDEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An affecting sketch of an elderly woman in love, abruptly followed by a spot of highly unmysterious murder-mystery--all adding up to not very much at all in this short novel by Rumer Godden's older sister Jon (Mrs. Starr Lives Alone, Ahmed and the Old Lady). Grace Maitland is 75, a widow, living alone in her beloved house 50 miles from London, trying to keep up with her vast, overgrown garden now that ""old Martin"" has retired, and suffering the visits of her loving but unlovable stepdaughter Dilys--who has always been jealous of Grace's love for the garden and wants her to move to a sensible flat. Then, thanks to Grace's doctor chum Hugh, a much-needed new gardener appears on the scene: gentle, youngish Ben Halden, who eagerly tackles the greenery five days a week, morning till sundown; he's apparently happy to get away from his shrewish wife and their trailer-park accommodations (though he dotes on his young son). A splendid development for Grace--but she soon has feelings for her garden's savior that go beyond mere gratitude or kindred-soulship: his blue eyes, his tanned skin. . . ""it was cruel that this strange thing, as violent as a storm, should happen to her when there could be no hope of happiness, only yearning and frustration."" She vows to keep her love secret, writing never-sent letters to Ben; she changes her will, leaving Ben her house and money; she achieves a certain happiness in this impossible situation. Then, however, she loses control for one embarrassing moment (touching his face ""in an unmistakable caress""), and the next day she is found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Did she fall--or was she pushed? Stepdaughter Dilys, livid over the bequest to Ben, is out to pin blame on him--especially after she finds those secret love letters; and faintly gothic goings-on in Grace's empty house push Dilys over the edge into hysteria. So level-headed Dr. Hugh indulges in a tad of deduction and fingers the culprit . . . who's been obvious to the reader all along. A genteel hybrid with nicely restrained narration throughout, but with neither the full-fleshed characterization of a psychological novel nor the suspenseful chill of a mystery-gothic.

Pub Date: April 9th, 1981
Publisher: Knopf