Series: Sage Westfield
Book Number: 2
Read this book for: historical mystery, contemporary mystery, cold case, police procedural, multiple storylines, UK mystery
Quick Review: A deftly constructed novel that offers a nuanced blend between historical and contemporary mystery stories.
Archaeologist Sage Westfield has her first forensics case: investigating the murder of a teenage girl. Hidden by holly leaves, the girl’s body has been discovered on the grounds of a stately home, where another teenage girl went missing twenty years ago – but her body was never found. The police suspect the reclusive owner, Alistair Chorleigh, who was questioned but never charged. But when Sage investigates a nearby burial mound – and uncovers rumours of an ancient curse – she discovers the story of another mysterious disappearance over a hundred years ago. Sage will need both her modern forensics skills and her archaeological knowledge to unearth the devastating truth.
A SHROUD OF LEAVES is the second story in Rebecca Alexander’s Sage Westfield series, which follows an archaeologist as she becomes entrenched in solving mysteries both contemporary and ancient.
This is the second novel in the series, and the first one that sees the main character, Sage Westfield, move into a more forensic, investigative role. However, the historical connections are a hallmark of this series and one of the most powerful aspects of these novels. Readers who have not read the first novel, A BABY’S BONES may be slightly confused about the intricacies of some of Sage’s relationships, but the actual mystery itself stands alone. However, we do recommend reading A BABY’S BONES — you can check out the review, partially quoted in this novel — here.
Similar to the last novel, the beautiful intricacy in this novel comes from the weaving together of a historical mystery with a current one. Alexander takes this to a new level in this instalment, with the historical mystery based around an archaeological excavation, a present-day murder mystery, and a likely-associated third cold case that falls between the two chronologically. The way that the various strands, all good stories in their own right, are woven together with delicacy as haunting echoes of one another, and would make this novel worth the read on their own.
However, we are also spoiled with nuanced, very human characters. Sage’s struggles to balance relationship, career and her child are very believable, and the missing archaeologist is such an interesting, introspective character that he could probably carry his own series! Most of the supporting cast of characters are also quirky and believable in their own rights.
Without spoiling the end, the resolution of this novel is also very well handled. It makes sense, and the various cases come together in a way that does not feel forced or contrived, which is a common weak point of this type of novel. Not so here, with every case resolved in a satisfactory way that makes sense, and resonates back across the stories in a poignant way.
This is definitely a mystery that most people would enjoy — highly recommend picking up A SHROUD OF LEAVES as part of your summer reading!