Today’s read opens with a portent of doom. New Forest, in the South of England, has been without rain for 19 days and we are told that soon, despite the Forest Warden, Peter Mallory’s, precautions, there is going to be a massive fire in New Forest, which will consume a million trees. Peter Mallory’s life is idyllic, his forestry career having begun in British Guiana (now known as Guyana). So we just know that something is going to go horribly wrong, don’t we? The horrible thing comes in the form of a blackmailer, who threatens to reveal to Peter’s adopted daughter the truth about her biological parents, unless he is paid £2000. To Peter this is unthinkable, given how much he loves her and how much he fears it would impact her right before her exams. What is worse is that the blackmailer has created a failsafe so that any reprisals against him will lead to the information being revealed anyway. So what should Peter do?
Whilst the plotting of this mystery is not overly complex, Garve nevertheless tells his story powerfully. Moreover, the narrative is not without incident and I found the unveiling of the blackmailer and his criminal intentions very effective. I also found it unusual to read a blackmail-based mystery which does not involve a victim facing extortion due to their own past shameful or criminal conduct. There are probably a few readers who would just have told their child the truth rather than concede to the demands of a blackmailer, but I think Garve sets up the psychology of the Mallory family well, so it is not too hard to buy into Peter’s decisions, even if they would not be your own ones. With this in mind Peter’s fractious relationship with the police is well-depicted and has an important bearing on the direction of the plot.
Garve equally makes it interesting to consider how an innocent person would react on the behalf of another and what questionable actions they may feel they have to take in order to protect them. As the book unfolds it hard to gauge whether Peter will be able to extricate himself from the situation he is in, as each new event seems to only plunge him into greater difficulty. I also felt it was interesting to see Peter wrestle with situation, not by himself, but in discussion with his wife, as the growing problem causes marital tension. This is because at one point especially Peter’s devotion to his daughter eclipses the needs of the rest of the family and any future problems handing over the money will cause are disregarded very quickly by him. This troubles his wife who feels conflicted, as she does not want to hinder the futures of her other children. To me this added an extra dimension to the reading experience, encouraging the reader to reflect on how they would respond if in a similar predicament.
So all in all a good read.