Secrets buried in 'The Savage Garden'

In literature, if you've got an Adam wandering loose in a garden, you've got trouble.

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In literature, if you've got an Adam wandering loose in a garden, you've got trouble.

Set in 1958, Mark Mills's follow-up to his acclaimed mystery "Amagansett" centers on Adam Strickland, an Oxford student who has been dispatched to Tuscany by his adviser to study a garden that's been untouched since the Renaissance. The landscape was designed as a memorial to Flora Docci, a noblewoman who died in 1548 at age 25. Its current owner, Frederica Docci, is still grieving a more recent loss – her oldest son, Emilio, was shot by German soldiers occupying the house in World War II. But Adam, a bright but lazy art history major, soon discovers that there may be more to both Flora's and Emilio's death than he's comfortable finding out.

Fans of the "Da Vinci Code" will enjoy unraveling the secret in the garden, which hinges on references to Dante's "Inferno" and the works of Ovid. British writer Mills, who got his start as a screenwriter, fills the fast-moving novel with gorgeous scenery, good food, and clever banter between Adam and his older brother, Harry, a sculptor with a casual attitude toward other people's money and girlfriends. But the ending is far too tidy, and the World War II-era mystery proves disappointingly simple. (That might be because Adam is too busy cavorting with lovely Italians to concentrate on serious detecting.) Grade: B

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