The De­tec­tive’s Gar­den: A Love Story and Med­i­ta­tion on Mur­der

Janyce Ste­fan-cole

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - J. G. STIN­SON

Un­bri­dled Books Soft­cover $18 (320pp) 978-1-60953-133-1

The De­tec­tive’s Gar­den is an en­gross­ing jour­ney into one man’s heart. Dig­ging up the fired shells, he finds a fin­ger, wear­ing a ring that looks very much like one that be­longed to Elena, in his pep­per patch. Elena, Emil knows, wasn’t miss­ing any fin­gers when she was buried.

The De­tec­tive’s Gar­den is the story of Emil Milosec, an im­mi­grant liv­ing in Brook­lyn and griev­ing for his wife, Elena. He main­tains her gar­den be­cause it brings him good mem­o­ries and seems to em­body Elena’s pres­ence.

Af­ter World War II, Emil met Elena in Slove­nia, where he was search­ing for any sur­viv­ing fam­ily mem­bers. Elena re­turned with him to New York, where they es­tab­lished a home, with a gar­den that Elena trea­sured, and that Emil came to love.

But Emil’s rem­i­nisc­ing is in­ter­rupted af­ter he fires two rounds from his ser­vice pis­tol in a fit of jeal­ous rage, fol­low­ing his neigh­bor’s shared mem­o­ries of chat­ting with Elena. Dig­ging up the fired shells, he finds a fin­ger, wear­ing a ring that looks very much like one that be­longed to Elena, in his pep­per patch. Elena, Emil knows, wasn’t miss­ing any fin­gers when she was buried.

Into a story with themes of death, grief, re­tire­ment, and bot­tled-up emo­tions, Ste­fan­cole weaves in­ter­est­ing el­e­ments, like Emil’s atheism and his ob­ses­sion with the Gar­den of Eden story, which con­trib­utes both to his lack of be­lief and to his love of gar­den­ing.

Emil dis­cov­ers that Elena was hid­ing a fam­ily se­cret, one that poses a threat to him even af­ter her death, and this be­comes a po­tent ve­hi­cle for pro­pel­ling the story for­ward. The novel has a bril­liantly ex­e­cuted struc­ture that ties its be­gin­ning to its con­clu­sion, with ev­i­dent con­nec­tions through­out, though the fi­nal pieces are well hid­den un­til the end.

The novel ful­fills its role as a love story with el­e­ments of mur­der. The love that Emil and Elena had for each other is pal­pa­ble, and Emil’s re­ac­tions to dis­cov­er­ing the lone fin­ger are in­fused with af­fec­tion. The ques­tion of whether Emil will bend the law to fit his grief is an­swered with sub­tlety, logic, and great com­pas­sion for the char­ac­ter.

The De­tec­tive’s Gar­den is an en­gross­ing jour­ney into one man’s heart, mak­ing it an un­usual and charm­ing mys­tery novel.

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