“The Poison Garden” by Alex Marwood opens with a startling event. Police Constable Nita Bevan and her partner Martin Coles walk up the hill, and once they find the first body, no one will ever be the same. More deaths come after “that day”, and the story is told in a narration that jumps back and forth in time. Readers follow participants and learn how they arrived at “that day,” and uncover all that transpires in the days and months that follow. Each chapter is identified with the character, location, and date. This information helps readers place people and actions in the correct chronology.
This is the story of a cult, its rise, its operation, and its fall. Readers soon learn that both the lives and the deaths of cult members are complicated and shocking. They run, fight, hide, and farm. They know that if they want to survive, they need to be prepared, and they are. The Ark will be the survival of the human race, and they are the fathers and mothers of the future.
The main characters are complex and multifaceted. They show one side to the people outside the cult, “The Dead,” another to fellow cult members, and yet another to only themselves and readers. The primary characters are Sarah Byrne, next of kin, and Romi, Eden, and Ilo, children of Sarah’s sister Alison. After Alison’s death on “that day” in the cult, Sara becomes guardian of the two younger children, Eden, and Ilo. She soon seeks help from Romi, the only “known” adult survivor. The characters are appealing; readers root for them, want them to succeed, but the transition to normal life will not be easy.
Marwood created a story that is startling on multiple levels; danger does not stop with the mass death; it intensifies. By structuring the narrative around multiple times frames and multiple people, Marwood gives readers a frightening look into the inner workings of the cult and exposes the cult remnants that members carry inside.
There are some entertaining moments along the way. The first Big Mac is eaten in a parking lot, washed down with a bottle of water, bland yet highly flavored, a strange mix of slimy, dry, and crunchy. Judge Judy is mentioned as well, “She doesn’t take any nonsense…tough, like beef jerky.”
“The Poison Garden” is intense and powerful. Page after page is filled with the twisted, the unexpected, and the frightening including the unexpected end. I received a review copy of “The Poison Garden” from Alex Marwood and Penguin Books. It is compelling and almost exhausting to read, yet I could not put it down.