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Richard Montanari is an American author who has been writing novels in the crime category since the 1990s. 'The Devil's Garden' is one of his more recent novels published in 2009, and was a recent choice of mine in the library. I was familiar with some of his previous work so I was pretty sure that I would enjoy this one.
The thing that grabbed my attention straight away with this particular book is the cover. The picture is of a child's empty garden swing on a kind of sepia background but with some parts in red which is very blood like. The book carries the sub heading, 'One Family's Fight To The Death' so I was pretty sure that this was going to be a dramatic novel. My previous experience is that this author writes a good pyschological chiller novel, and I was expecting a gritty read, but not as much as this one.
I took a while to warm to this book, as it starts in Estonia, where a young girl is raped and falls pregnant with triplets. When the babies are born, one is stilborn, but the two twin daughters are sold by the girls father on the black market, and they are illegally adopted in America. While this is a pretty shocking plotline on its own, it seems more horrific as the girl is some sort of psychic and she knows about the rape from being only 7 years old.
The story then switches to America, where these children are being raised by a lawyer called Michael Roman and his wife Abigail. The pair have the typical life in the suburbs with their 4 year old daughters, until a day from hell where Michael finds out the adoption lawyer they used was brutally killed and his files were stolen, and Abigail finds a strange man in their house who looks familiar.
The story here has a hint of paranormal as the girls appear to have inherited the gift of second sight from their mother. There is also a lot of psychotic behaviour, with the strange Aleksander Savisaar who believes being reunited with his daughters will make him immortal.
I found the whole path of him travelling around the world in an attempt to find his missing children very disturbing as he seems to have no boundaries like normal people. I felt real fear for the characters in the book, particularly the Romans. How far would someone go to stop a madman hurting their family? It was certainly thought provoking.
This is a gruesome read, but also very compulsive for you to carry on once you start reading. Thankfully the book grew on me after the strange start, and this is the best book I have read since The Hunger Games trilogy earlier in the year. For fans of crime novels, this one will take some beating.
It's always nice when a crime thriller lends a little difference in terms of national traditional folklore, and Richard Montanari injects a little Estonian history into this fast paced thriller. Combining modern American law and crime with historical Estonian tales of immortality needs a little something extra to bridge the gap, though, and it comes here in the form of some violence, family crisis and a good old fashioned American hero.
The book opens with a short scene where an Estonian soothsayer gives birth to three babies, one stillborn. The other two are then stolen away from her and the father, Aleks, who then kills the mother, believing that this and retaining a drop of blood from each of the three babies is all he needs to fulfill his folklore destiny of becoming Koshkei the Deathless.
Four years later, New York ADA Michael Roman has shaken off the shackles of his Estonian parents' gruesome death many years before and has a lovely life with his beautiful wife Abby and yep, you guessed it, adopted twin daughters Charlotte and Emily (like the Bronte sisters, as various characters comment).
It's not long before Aleks sets off to find his missing daughters, leaving a trail of gruesome violence and torture in his quest for the truth. But Michael is no ordinary man - he has already cheated death more than once, and he will do anything to protect his family.
I think this is the second of Montanari's books I have read, although his style and characterisation is often similar to so many other crime thriller authors that I can't be sure. I remember a plot and some characters, albeit briefly, and the name is somewhat familiar. I don't have the inclination to go searching to find out. Either way, this did not affect my reading of this book in any way. The opening was a bit detailed yet mysterious, and this was a little annoying as I like a book that launches straight into things, even if this isn't what my ultimate judgment is based upon. The book does pick up pace but this is only down to the familiar and generic crime thriller style of the book.
The characters are instantly familiar and easy to understand, the back history coming where necessary, the scene and location set very quickly and completely once the opening confusion is over. As the book settles in, the brief slips into Estonian folklore are welcome to provide a break in the prose, it running not so much as a narrative but looking objectively at every character. Three threads emerge, that of Michael, Aleks and the lead investigator on what quickly becomes a multiple murder case, Desiree Powell. The brutal dominance of Aleks is matched by the dogged family values of Michael, and Powell is introduced as a dominant woman to the proceedings, having fought her way to where she is.
In retrospect, I can't think of a single weak character in the book. Montanari certainly leans heavily on aggression and confidence being traits of all concerned in order to maintain pace and consistency, and it is in this vein that the book is quite memorable. I'm sure that after a few weeks and a couple more books, a lot of this will fade from my mind somewhat, but at the time of reading, it's certainly a book I'm glad to have read. The only thing is that reading doesn't instantly make me want to pick up another of his works, despite having another 2 or 3 sitting on my ever expanding shelf of books to read.
At less than 400 pages long, there's no real worry of rambling paragraphs showing their faces too much, and the way the story is written, they don't really work anyway. There is a gentle attempt here and there to show some sort of solidity and filler with character build ups later on in the book, but each tuime this happens I got the urge to just skim it, no matter the character concerned. I felt that there would be no relevant detail contained within these passages but I read them anyway and felt that the only way this would actually have been relevant is if you didn't have a solid grasp of each character in your mind already.
It flows very well, and it's a good tale. There are no unexplained twists or events, and the tale ends on a semi-philosophical note by bringing it back to the Estonian tale of folklore. It's well written, but just does nothing special or different to other similar authors in terms of content. The Estonian element is nice to have as a side vantage, but with plenty of European literature flooding the market now, even this will soon cease to be a noticeable difference. Worth a read, but nothing different.
I've read and reviewed a previous book of Montanari's, Play Dead, but don't recall much of it. I came across this and recognised the name, plus the blurb on the back, along with the tagline on the cover ( 'One family fight...to the death) sounded interesting. Fortunately, this didn't let me down.
The Devil's Garden falls within the crime thriller genre and opens by introducing us to a world 4 years prior to the present day in the rest of the novel. This world is dark and mysterious, a place in Estonia, where three girls are born, one lost to stillbirth. We learn about Aleksander, the father, who learns after the birth that the twins girls have been taken away. He believes in a fairytale, a story from history, of a deathless prophecy. To fulfil this he needs his daughters.
Fast forward to 4 years later and we're introduced to Michael Roman, a prosecutor for the New York District Attorney's office. He's a popular and successful guy, living a happy life after a not-so-happy childhood, with his wife Abby. Their family has been completed by twin girls, aged 4. You guessed it, the girls from Estonia. We learn of illegal adoptions, then of a man, Viktor Harkov, being murdered. Harkov was involved in these adoptions, but who killed him and why is puzzling the detectives, with no clues being left behind with which to hunt the killer down.
As the book continues the plot thickens and we see, without giving away more than is in the blurb, a father hunt down his children. But Abby and Michael are Charlotte and Emily's parents now, and it appears that Aleks doesn't need these girls alive to get what he wants; to be deathless. Can the Roman's, or the detectives, figure out what's going on before it's too late?
I found this book to be quite absorbing, and managed to sit and read it contently without wanting to stop. The plot was fairly well developed and interesting, and even though it may not have taken genius to figure out, it felt like it had a good structure and made sense. I guess if you're looking for something where you can play detective then this probably isn't it though. The characters had enough depth, and the scenes were vivid enough, to imagine what was happening and empathise. All of these things added together to make this an easy but enjoyable read, without confusing the reader with detail and a web of unmemorable characters.
The only downside was like I've just commented upon really; there's not much in the way of detective work for the reader to do. I didn't find that a negative thing, however, because it was easy to read and absorbing. There were a few moments when I thought 'why can't you see that?', 'why don't you do this...?', but they didn't distract from the overall enjoyment of the novel. I guess in that sense, the characters were a slight let down, but not enough for me to dismiss recommending the novel. The tale behind Aleks and what he believes wasn't that believable, nor was the children's ability to hone into their past life, but it still managed to read well. It still retained its suspense and creativity, and the Russian / Estonia / Folklore aspects gave it an edge that set it apart from other crime thrillers.
On the back is the comment: 'The unforgettable new thriller from the Sunday Times bestselling author', along with praise from Tess Gerritsen, another author I like: 'A relentlessly suspenseful, soul-chilling thriller that hooks you instantly'.
Overall this is a book I'd recommend for its ability to draw the reader in and create a vivid scene, leaving you wanting more.
RRP £6.99, selling on Amazon for £4.69 (paperback).
387 pages including epilogue over 59 chapters.
The Devils Garden - Richard Montanari
Michael Roman and Abby Roman and their 4 year old twin daughters are just a normal working family living in suburbia. Their peace is destroyed when a lawyer is tortured to death. This lawyer is known to them. He worked illegimate adoption of their twin daughters from Estonia, the birth place of Michael's parents. The twins' biological family wants his daughters, who were snatched from their mother's bed, back. This psychopath will stop at nothing to get them back. Believing he can live forever he needs them to make this happen. He goes on a killing spree across the city. A NYPD detective is looking into the murder of the lawyer and is lead to Michael and his family. Will Michael and his family survive or will the psychopath get what's rightfully his.
This was a stand alone book of Richard Montanari. The first book since Montanari's Balzano and Byrne series and I didn't know what to expect, and for me it wasn't as great as his previous books. I am normally sitting at the edge of my seat and shouting at anyone who interrupts. But with this book I could get that normal flow of reading. Yes there were gruesome torture scenes that Montanari writes so well. But it was the characters that just didn't do it for me. I hope he goes back to the Balzano and Byrne series as they were thoroughly entertaining.
I would give this 3 out of 5.