Fish, Blood and Bone by Leslie Forbes

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The Independent Culture

The plentiful ideas in Forbes's green-fingered second novel mulch together like good compost. A kind of thriller, but not exactly a whodunit, Forbes's book is more interested in unravelling genetic codes and retracing criminal family trees than the crime in hand ­ the murder of an 18-year-old gardener on a quiet London street.

The novel's likeable heroine, Claire Fleetwood, is an American working in London as a forensic photographer. Her prospects look up when she inherits an almshouse and garden in the East End. Here among the whispering bamboo and tropical ferns of her newly-adopted back yard, she starts, literally, to unearth evidence of her family's curious past ­ diaries, ancient pots of Marmite, and several caches of human bones. She is settling into to some kind of stability when her friend Sally is stabbed to death just outside the garden's walls. In despair, Claire joins a botanical expedition to Bhutan and Tibet. As the plot grows denser and the metaphors more horticultural, it becomes harder to abandon oneself to Forbes's more luxuriant imaginings ­ it turns out that three generations of Claire's family have been involved in the opium trade ­ but it's hard to fault an author who propels you into such a deliciously shady world.